By Susan Dickson
With Carolina North bearing down on Orange County and Chatham Countyâ€™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 Countyâ€™s population grows so does the need for public transportation between the two counties.
â€œPublic transportation is going to have to be in full bloom as we move into the decade,â€ he said. â€œWe are in the mode to see this change coming upon us and start making the moves.â€
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 Hillâ€™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.
â€œIn order to get [Carolina North] approved, thereâ€™s going to have to be a heavy reliance on public transportation,â€ he said.
Pittsboro Mayor Randolph Voller asked Orange commissioners for their help in developing transportation infrastructure in Chatham County as the county grows.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to have a network to move thousands of people, and we donâ€™t,â€ he said. â€œWe could use your help because whatâ€™s happening is weâ€™re going to get swamped.â€
In addition, Chatham Commissioner George Lucier expressed concern regarding 15,000 homes planned for construction in northern Chatham County.
â€œI donâ€™t think folks fully realize what impact thatâ€™s going to have on our traffic situation five to ten years from now,â€ 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.
â€œWeâ€™re appealing to our Chatham County neighbors to work with us on this,â€ Orange County board chair Moses Carey said, adding that because of the parkâ€™s location, both Orange and Chatham
county residents are likely to use the park. â€œPeople will go wherever itâ€™s convenient for them to go to use the facilities.â€
Jacobs said the county wanted to allow all local residents to use the park facilities.
â€œAlthough we had thought about trying to restrict access [to Orange County residents], I donâ€™t think we ever proceeded in any way to do that,â€ 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.