Published: Feb 05, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 02, 2013 05:45 PM
As I stare at the jagged stumps of once-towering pines and hardwoods graceful trees that shaded the road from summers heat, offered privacy to the neighboring homes, and created a verdant barrier against the massive Ambulatory Care Center and its parking lots I tell myself:
It could be worse.
As of today, a stand of young pines remains, but who knows for how long. Much of the jungly stories-high wisteria is gone. The little footpath that only pedestrians knew about the steep hidden shortcut that wove from the road down into a magical dell before ascending at the ACC lot will, no doubt, vanish.
It could be worse.
Let me explain. The Department of Transportation is widening a short stretch of South Columbia Street. For decades the Town Council battled the state DOT and the university over plans for this curvy, two-lane strip of road.
The town was adamant. We did not want the proposed five-lane highway the university and the hospital favored. Chancellor Michael Hooker agreed with the council and the result was a modest plan that would add a turning lane and improve pedestrian safety.
The town sighed. Relief. One entrance to Chapel Hill would maintain the character, charm, and an appropriate scale that Chapel Hill had traditionally stood for.
Then Chancellor Hooker died. His replacement, James Moeser, joined with UNC Hospitals officials to reopen negotiations for the mega-highway. Town officials and heroic neighborhood organizers repeatedly fought back a David and Goliath struggle and eventually won, for good.
Now, after many delays, Hookers original modified version is not only back on the table, its under way.
When completed, South Columbia Street will have a center turn lane and bus pullouts. We will have sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of the road. And best of all, there will be no five-lane highway.
Walking home from town (full disclosure: my neighborhood will be affected), I look skyward and notice dozens of birds shrieking in the remaining trees, probably keening to each other over the destruction of their perches and homes.
I shout a reminder up to them. It could be worse.
What probably ultimately doomed the five-lane plan was the topographical impossibility of it too much rock, too many tight curves, too many dips and valleys. Creating a big wide swath of pavement would have been an engineering nightmare.
Whatever. Its not happening
Of course, if I had it my way, the road would have stayed just as it was. Preserve quaint, I say. Theres so little left. And lets face it the three months of disruption to public and private transportation this spring will be massive.
But I take some comfort in knowing (I hope its true) that the trees cleared as part of the project will be sold to a local sawmill and made into lumber. And there are other plusses. I will no longer have to shake a fist and honk at impatient motorists who cross the double yellow lines to pass the stopped bus nearly creaming me as I turn out of my neighborhood. And thank goodness I wont have to hover delicately behind defenseless cyclists hugging shoulder-less sections of road.
Commuters to the hospital and university may be disappointed with a traffic solution they view as minimal daily travelers, of course, always want to get where theyre going as fast as possible. Well, their road time will be shorter. And Im sorry, people, but we need to stop championing more highways and provide better public transportation. But thats a column for another day.
For now, its all good ... sort of. I look at the massive gnarled root balls, freshly yanked from the earth, and repeat my mantra: it could be worse.