Triangle commuters adjust driving patterns after opening of East End Connector
It's become a daily ritual for those driving between downtown Durham and the jobs hub of Research Triangle Park.
- As you approach the intersection of N.C. 147 and I-885, red brake lights flare and a traffic jam emerges as four lanes of traffic merge over the course of 2,000 feet.
What's happening: The so-called East End Connector, part of a nearly three-decade goal to connect U.S. 70 to the Durham Freeway, has now been open for more than a year. And since its opening, it's become one of residents' favorite places to complain about — especially about why no one in the Triangle seems to know how to merge.
- As one Reddit user recently lamented: "Learn. How. To. Zipper. Merge. Let one in, and keep it moving. We are all in this together."
By the numbers: There have so far been 102 crashes at the intersection, according to N.C. Department of Transportation data, though none were fatal.
- Its reported crash rate per 100 million vehicles is 372, which is greater than the state's average of 234.
What they're saying: "What I am seeing is a lot of rear-end crashes … at pretty low speeds," Daniel Findley, an associate director with the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at N.C. State University, told Axios.
- "To me that suggests there's congestion."
Between the lines: The rationale for the $162 million project was to stop so many drivers from using central Durham neighborhoods as a cut-through from Interstate 85 to the Durham Freeway.
- For years, drivers sped through roads like Duke Street or Gregson Street as a way to cut down on time.
State of play: The East End Connector seems to be is alleviating that issue, according to data from the city of Durham.
- Daily traffic on Gregson Street between downtown and 147, for example, fell 22% in the months after the connector opened.
- Other roads saw declines too: Duke Street (-16%), South Mangum Street (-20%), North Roxboro St. (-26.4%), and South Alston Avenue (-32%).
Yes, but: Congestion on the highways remains, Findley said, as the Triangle continues to see an increase in drivers.
- "If you're trying to pour 10 gallons of water into a five-gallon bucket, that's just not going to work," he said.
- "If there's too much demand, then you're going to have congestion and I tend to think most growing areas — the Triangle fits in this — it's a natural outcome of population growth."
What's next: Traffic is expected to keep funneling into the East End Connector in the coming years.
- A forecast from 2009 estimated it would have 100,000 daily trips by the year 2035.
- In its first year, the annual average daily traffic was 75,000, according to DOT numbers.
The bottom line: Reducing congestion will likely take reducing demand — whether that's through public transit or working from home more, Findley said.
- The Triangle has struggled to come up with a regional solution to transportation that would better connect residential hubs and job centers, like RTP.
- A consensus is beginning to form around bus-rapid transit, after commuter rail didn't get a favorable review from a federal agency.
- But while Raleigh and Chapel Hill are working on their own bus-rapid transit plans, Durham hasn't yet taken up the topic.
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