At the August Mebane Planning Board meeting, city officials discussed the Traffic Impact Analysis reports that local developers are required to conduct when considering new residential and commercial projects in Mebane, or in an area that would be annexed into Mebane’s corporate city limits. The subject had also been a topic in a prior Mebane City Council meeting earlier this summer.
The aim of the discussions were to establish specific terms and conditions to ensure that any new traffic volumes are accounted for by the developers, and to empower the City of Mebane to require Traffic Impact Analyses at a lower threshold than what is currently required at the state level, which is approximately 3,000 average daily trips (ADT) by local vehicles.
“If it (a proposed development) meets a certain threshold (of average daily trips), we require the developer to contract with a traffic engineering firm (for a Traffic Impact Analysis),” City Planning Director Cy Stober explained. “They evaluate three different conditions - current conditions, what the traffic conditions would look like in the future with the development project, and what the traffic conditions would look like in the future without the development project.”
The Traffic Impact Analysis reports reveal potential degradations of service, such as congestion. The developer is responsible for mitigating these issues with improvement projects such as stoplights, turning lanes, or anything else deemed necessary to improve traffic flows.
In a development such as Cambridge Park - 731 homes between Turner and Jones Roads in an otherwise rural area - the developer, as determined by their Traffic Impact Analysis, is responsible for turning lanes on Turner and Old Hillsborough Road, along with a future stoplight at Old Hillsborough Road and Jones Road, which is a particularly busy intersection during school pickup hours.
“There are a number of improvements that they are going to have to make on state roads and city roads due to adding that traffic. And that is the developer’s responsibility,” Stober said of the Cambridge Park development.
Stober indicated that many municipalities use a lower threshold than the state standard of 3,000 average daily trips, because they see the need to have something more stringent that can be reviewed by a qualified transportation planner.
“We currently do not have anyone on staff or on contract with the City who specializes in traffic or traffic engineering,” Stober indicated.
The proposed amendment before the Planning Board called for subdivision design standards that would require a Traffic Impact Analysis at 1,500 average daily trips - approximately half the statewide standard. Mebane City staff would have some discretion in terms of determining the need for a Traffic Impact Analysis based on current traffic conditions in the areas of proposed developments. The TIA requires a review of all traffic modes, including bicycles.
The developer is required under the amendment to cover the City of Mebane’s costs to review the Traffic Impact Analysis that will be done by the developer’s contractor.
Mebane has wide discretion regarding its TIA policies. Stober indicated that some local municipalities, such as Chapel Hill and Cary, require developers to conduct TIAs if the traffic impact is projected to be as low as 500 average daily trips. Greensboro and Apex use a threshold of 1,000 average daily trips.
If approved by the City Council, Mebane will become the first community in Alamance County to place a specific threshold on project traffic impacts as it relates to conducting TIAs to research future growth.
“Some of them don’t require this at all,” Stober mentioned. “Some of them have a TIA ordinance. We looked at communities in the Triad. None of the communities in Alamance County require a TIA in their ordinance that I could find. Durham, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, Knightdale, and Garner - they all have a TIA ordinance. It is somewhat of a professional decision. It seemed appropriate with the growth Mebane is experiencing to lower the threshold (from 3,000 average daily trips).”
Members of the Planning Board agreed that it made more sense to lower the threshold for TIA requirements even lower than 1,500 average daily trips, eventually moving to require TIAs for impacts of 1,000 average daily trips.
One important distinction, noted by one member of the Planning Board, is that the City of Mebane’s Technical Review Committee (TRC) can still require a Traffic Impact Analysis from a developer if they deem it to be necessary, even if the projected traffic impact comes in a little higher than the number established by the City.
“Irregardless of what the number is, it says even if you don’t hit those numbers, if the TRC wants to do a Traffic Impact Analysis, you can require one,” Planning Board member Kurt Pearson said. “I think that’s very important to note."
“I would be in favor of moving it lower,” fellow Planning Board member Judy Taylor said in agreement. “Some of these other communities that have a lower threshold, their infrastructure is set up for more traffic already. Greensboro, Cary - a lot of their main thoroughfares are already at least two lanes going each way. And a lot of ours are one lane going each way.”
“We’re dealing with a lot smaller roads,” Taylor added. “We don’t have the infrastructure that some of these other communities have that are using the 1,000 threshold. So it seems we should make ours lower as well. We have small roads. Once you get out of the main I-40/I-85 corridor, and right within a quarter-mile, half-mile from the interstate at this point, you’re onto neighborhood street-size roads pretty much throughout Mebane. We’re packing a lot of folks into these two-lane roads. We’re adding turn lanes, but we’re not really adding lanes so much. We don’t have Wendover Roads and High Point Roads to help funnel people from Point A to Point B. If they’re not getting on the interstate, they’re staying on a two-lane road.”
“I support as well lowering it,” said fellow Planning Board member Larry Teague.
The Planning Board unanimously approved the amendment proposing that Traffic Impact Analysis reports will be required for future developments at the threshold of 1,000 average daily trips.
“The top two things for me are always traffic and schools," Pearson said. "The traffic now is a real issue. If we were to move it, my recommendation or opinion would be for Council to look at a more restrictive number (than 1,500 average daily trips). I think 1,000 would be appropriate, given that it (traffic) is such an issue around town.” This is just giving us data. It’s giving us a study to look at for the Council to make good decisions. It’s just giving us good data. And I think it’s appropriate to move it (lower).”