After we voted to reject the NCDOT proposal on April 21, 2009, and passed a resolution in favor of doing only the bike lane and sidewalk improvements, DOT came back to us with three scenarios, and told us we had to pick one.  One was their original plan, which we had rejected.  The second was to pursue our plan of only adding bike lanes and sidewalks, which meant, according to DOT, that our funding that was in the DOT “road” budget would disappear and we would have to apply through the meagerly funded “bike-ped” fund, which meant our preferred project would have to start all over in the budget process and would most likely be many years away.  The third option was to have DOT build the project with the two lanes, three lanes (appropriate turn lanes), and roundabout, but with a catch:  under this option, after completion, Carrboro would have to take over ownership, maintenance and further improvements of  the nearly one mile section of Smith Level Road where the four-lanes would not be constructed.  In other words, this state road would be turned over to the Town, an unprecedented move by the DOT.   

 At our BOA meeting on June 2, 2009, we discussed these options, and rejected all three.  Instead, we adopted a fourth option, to ask DOT to keep our funding in place while we talked with persons in upper level administration and policy levels at DOT about our concerns with the proporsed DOT project, one which we feel encourages increased use of automobiles instead of encouraging other means of transportation.  We do not feel that we should be penalized for encouraging alternative transportation behavior, and we believe this is what our citizens prefer, and what will be best for our region (indeed, for most municipalities) in the coming years as we try to reduce our carbon footprint.  Here is a story from The Carrboro Citizen recapping our conversation that evening:

 One point I made during the meeting was that rather than call it a fourth option, we could simply say we prefer the third option, minus the attempt by DOT to push the financial burden of this road onto us.  I find it disingenuous that DOT would even present this option; it obviously is a reflection of the current economic condition of the state.  When I asked under what rationale they proposed passing this continuing cost on to us, the answer I received was in part that a new environmental study would have to be done.

I also find it interesting that supposedly, the type of project we are asking for cannot be built with “road” funds, but that DOT is offering to build that very project with “road” funds, with the financial caveat.  Well, we want it without the caveat.

The saga about proposed improvements to Smith Level Road goes back over twenty years.  During the April 21, 2009 BOA meeting when we discussed Smith Level Road, a timeline of the back and forth with NCDOT was presented to educate those of us who have not been in Carrboro for this entire time.  To sum, the current status of the road is this:  DOT is ready to spend money on improvements to Smith Level Road, and has presented a plan to Carrboro which has been met with much disagreement.   Although the plan does include bike lanes and sidewalks (in the early years, DOT did not include these, so some advancement has been made), the plan starts with a four lane connection from 15-501 onto Smith Level Road for almost a mile.  It then crests on a hill where the road turns into a combination of three lanes and two lanes.  It then continues with a roundabout in front of Carrboro High School, past Ray Road, where the proposed improvements end.   Here is a story from The Daily Tar Heel about the evening that the BOA discussed the proposal by DOT on April 21, 2009:

 In my view, the worst part about the proposal is the four lane section off of 15-501.  Admittedly, that area is not the most attractive now, but this would set the stage to encourage massive automobile use down this road.  The rest of the road improvements, which vary from two lanes to three lanes where turn lanes are suggested, are acceptable to me.  I have not heard enough about the roundabout to decide how I feel about this, although I will say that I drive through the roundabout at the end of Old Erwin Road in Durham every day and can tell how it has improved traffic safety at that intersection.  I know our citizens have concerns about the proposed roundabout on Smith Level Road because they are worried that it might actually be more unsafe for children walking to the high school.

 After discussion, the BOA voted 6-1 to reject the plan, and to instead ask DOT to improve Smith Level Road with bike lanes and sidewalks.  Mayor Mark Chilton voted in favor of the plan, acknowledging that while it was not the total preferred plan, being able to get the bike lanes and sidewalks would be a marked improvement over the current unsafe conditions.  Speaking for myself, I understood and agreed somewhat with the rationale of Mark’s argument, but decided ultimately to vote with the rest of the BOA to try to get what we wanted.