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Chatham, Orange study regional plans to deal with transportation issues

By Susan Dickson
Staff Writer

With Carolina North bearing down on Orange County and Chatham County’s population set to explode, transportation was a top concern for Orange and Chatham county commissioners at a joint meeting Tuesday night.

Orange County Planning Director Craig Benedict cautioned that because many Chatham County residents are employed in Chapel Hill, as Chatham County’s population grows so does the need for public transportation between the two counties.

“Public transportation is going to have to be in full bloom as we move into the decade,” he said. “We are in the mode to see this change coming upon us and start making the moves.”

According to the Triangle J Council of Governments, Chatham County is projected to grow from about 28,000 in 2005 to 70,000 by 2035, nearly 150 percent, while Chatham County employment is estimated to increase from about 9,000 to about 11,000, 24 percent, over the same time period.

By comparison, Chapel Hill employment is projected to increase from about 35,000 in 2005 to about 81,000 in 2035, 130 percent. Chapel Hill’s population is estimated to grow from about 52,000 to about 81,000, 55 percent, over the same time period.

Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs said UNC officials should be involved in the transportation planning process because of the likely heavy use by university employees, especially as Chapel Hill North is developed.

“In order to get [Carolina North] approved, there’s going to have to be a heavy reliance on public transportation,” he said.

Pittsboro Mayor Randolph Voller asked Orange commissioners for their help in developing transportation infrastructure in Chatham County as the county grows.

“We’ve got to have a network to move thousands of people, and we don’t,” he said. “We could use your help because what’s happening is we’re going to get swamped.”

In addition, Chatham Commissioner George Lucier expressed concern regarding 15,000 homes planned for construction in northern Chatham County.

“I don’t think folks fully realize what impact that’s going to have on our traffic situation five to ten years from now,” he said.

In other business, the Orange County Board of Commissioners asked the Chatham County commissioners for assistance in developing Southern Community Park. The park is proposed to be a 70-acre development located south of Southern Village and west of Highway 15-501, in close proximity to Chatham County.

Plans for the park began in 2002 and about $3 million was allocated to fund the project. However, construction costs have since increased, and Orange County commissioners said Chapel Hill and Orange County do not have the resources to fund the park on their own.

“We’re appealing to our Chatham County neighbors to work with us on this,” Orange County board chair Moses Carey said, adding that because of the park’s location, both Orange and Chatham
county residents are likely to use the park. “People will go wherever it’s convenient for them to go to use the facilities.”

Jacobs said the county wanted to allow all local residents to use the park facilities.

“Although we had thought about trying to restrict access [to Orange County residents], I don’t think we ever proceeded in any way to do that,” he added.

Although the park is planned in several phases, the master plan includes three soccer fields, a dog park, two basketball courts, trails and other features.

6 Responses

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  1. PH

    “Chapel Hill’s population is estimated to grow from about 52,000 to about 81,000, about 1.5 percent, over the same time period”

    Last time I did math, a population growth rate from 52,000 to 81,000 was much more than 1.5%. (More like 64%).

  2. Ruby Sinreich

    Thanks for this story. The projections are fascinating and a serious wake up call for planning!

    When you say “Chapel Hill North bearing down on Orange County…” I think you mean _Carolina_ North. Chapel Hill North is almost all built out and, while some neighbors object, probably won’t have a regional impact on our economy or transportation network.

  3. Editor

    Thanks. Fixed the Carolina North reference. Good golly.
    I’ll check on the growth rate. I imagine it is an annual number.


  4. Susie

    I checked the numbers and 1.5% is actually the projected annual growth rate for Chapel Hill’s population — the increase from 2005 to 2035 (from 52,394 to 81,297) is estimated at 55%, according to Triangle JCOG projections.
    The Chatham County employment increase is also incorrect — 0.7% is the annual growth rate, 24% is the projected increase over the 30 year period.
    Thanks for pointing this out. I’ve corrected the information in the story, and I’ll be sure to keep my numbers straight next time.

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