Commentary

Bob Wilson: Towers would further clog N.C. 54 bottleneck

August 30, 2013 

Bob Wilson

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In the long, sad history of Raleigh Road, Nelson Highway or N.C. 54 – take your choice – nothing looms over that crowded ribbon of asphalt like the two office towers proposed for the Farrington Road intersection.

The Durham City Council is scheduled to take up the issue at its Tuesday meeting, and it should come down decisively on the side of common sense by rejecting the twin towers. The city-county planning department recommends rejection, even though it says the towers are compatible with the city’s comprehensive plan.

That seeming inconsistency runs true when you consider why the planners didn’t go for the project: 46,000 vehicles a day on N.C. 54. Those vehicles, many of them going to and from work at UNC-Chapel Hill, must negotiate four traffic signals in a less than half a mile, from Hunting Ridge Road to the Leigh Farm access road.

Squarely in the middle of this are I-40 access ramps at Exit 273.

Carolina Crossing is the forest of office buildings that has sprung up on both sides of the Farrington Road intersection in the last 10 years. Harrington Bank and Nantucket Grill were early tenants there, along with a Shell station and a Hardee’s fast-food restaurant.

Then came a succession of one-story office buildings along a service road north of N.C. 54. The service road accesses Farrington Road, sort of. Let’s put it this way: It’s not a good idea to turn left onto Farrington.

Pre-dating all of them is 30-year-old Falconbridge subdivision and its eponymous strip mall anchored by a BP service station. And don’t forget Farrington Road Baptist Church, which is the crux of this issue.

The litany of ills at the intersection could go on. But why make a bad situation worse by putting two 84,000-square-feet towers, each seven stories high with associated parking?

There are two dominant reasons, as I see it, and neither bodes well in the long run.

First, Farrington Road Baptist Church has agreed to sell its five acres to Carolina Crossing developers. So the church wins the Big Bingo.

Second, the developers see a tidy cash cow in the two towers, which are being marketed for medical offices.

As one who believes capitalism is the least-worst economic model, I don’t have any problem with developers out to make their stash. But like many other people in Southwest Durham, I do have a problem with where these folks propose their mighty works.

That’s the trouble with 751 South, the sprawling mixed-use development going up near the Chatham County line, thanks to a legislative end run around the City Council. That project is too close to the foulest arm of Jordan Lake for comfort

Similarly, Carolina Crossing I and II, as the towers are known, are entirely too close to the Farrington Road-N.C. 54 intersection. They will further muck up one of the most vexing intersections in the state.

And no, our pie-in-the-sky light rail system isn’t a panacea, not even close to one, for reducing congestion there.

The City Council may well reject Carolina Crossing and look past the 2012 N.C. 54 Corridor study. But so what? The developers of 751 South wrote the manual for getting around local government.

It’s called the General Assembly.

Bob Wilson, longtime journalist and editor, lives in southwest Durham.

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