Orange Commissioners preparing to implement local development plan

Ben Wilson Road in Mebane could receive a new road intersecting it in the coming years. That is, if Orange County’s Draft Efland-Buckhorn-Mebane Access Management Plan (E-B-M AMP) goes into effect soon. The Orange County Commissioners held a public hearing on the matter last week, and are expected to take action on the plan in early March. The AMP plan calls for a wide range of roadway improvements in the coming decades, including new intersections, turning lanes, road widening projects, and median/shoulder improvements. The plan would also incorporate new bike lanes and sidewalks for pedestrian usage.

At its meeting the evening of Tuesday, February 5, the Orange County Board of Commissioners received an overview of the Draft Efland-Buckhorn-Mebane Access Management Plan (E-B-M AMP), held a public hearing on the matter, and provided comments before the plan is scheduled on the March 7, 2019 agenda for board action.

Access Management Plans (AMPs) are proposed long-range transportation plans with elements such as possible new roads and connections to existing roads. The plans promote an orderly, cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally sensitive roadway program, which help guide development decisions and local investment.

How the plan basically works is that once a property owner develops their property or sells their property within the project area to a future developer, the developer submits an application to Orange County for approval of the proposed development. The county staff uses the AMP to encourage developer to dedicate a portion of the property for a public right-of-way for a future road. The AMP plan does not fund road projects, nor acquisition of right of way, nor does it take, condemn, or buy private land for future roads. It also does not say when future development will occur, and does not say when or how new local roads will be built.

I-85, which bisects the proposed Efland-Buckhorn-Mebane Planning Area, is scheduled for pavement rehabilitation through the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s adopted STIP, or State Transportation Improvement Program. That particular project is expected to cost approximately $18,365,000 over a 7.4 mile stretch.

On April 3, 2018, the Orange Commissioners authorized its Planning Department to update the adopted 2011 E-B-M AMP in accordance with an approved public and advisory board review. This update has been conducted through a comprehensive public involvement process which included community input and recommendations from the Planning Board and Orange Unified Transportation Board (OUTBoard). Planning staff also presented the draft plan to the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) and its staff for input.

The updated E-B-M AMP is available online at:

http://www.orangecountync.gov/DocumentCenter/View/6469/Revised-E-B-M-AMP?bidId=

The E-B-M AMP a combination of the originally-adopted plan, which was approved back in 2001, along with a 2017 Transportation Study, and feedback from County Planning, City of Mebane, and members of the general public. The 2017 Transportation Study was funded through the Orange County fiscal year 17-18 budget at a cost of $35,000.

The 2017 Transportation Study indicated that Buckhorn Road north of I-58 currently counts for twice as many vehicles (approximately 12,000 per day) than in 2006, when it serviced approximately 6,500 cars a day. In addition, the segment of I-85 within the planning area currently has an estimated 30 percent more traffic volume than in 2006.

Goals for the project include a long-range transportation vision for the area, illustrating roadway alignment and corridor width necessary to serve future land uses and address traffic impact as development occurs, a plan that assists the County in promoting economic development through its development review process by encouraging developers to dedicate right-of-way necessary for future roads.

The new AMP plan calls for recommended two undivided lanes with 5-feet wide paved shoulder or curb and gutter, bike lane, and sidewalk for all new streets east of Buckhorn Road, including Southern Drive and Forrest Road. It also recommends 4-feet wide paved shoulder and sidewalk, or a divided raised median with curb and gutter, bike lanes, and sidewalk for all new streets west of Buckhorn Road, including Bowman Road, Rock Quarry Road, and Ben Wilson Road.

For existing streets such as Ben Wilson Road and West Ten Road to the east of Ben Wilson Road, the AMP recommends 3 lanes with a two-way left turn lane, along with a 5-feet wide paved shoulder or curb and gutter, bike lane, and sidewalks, to be achieved through the State Transportation Improvement Program.

For Buckhorn Road, Mt. Willing Road, and West Ten Road to the west of Ben Wilson Road, the plan calls for four lanes, divided, with a raised median along with curb and gutter, and an option for wide outside lanes and sidewalk, or a bike lane with sidewalks. This would also be achieved through the STIP program.

Intersection improvements within the plan include a southbound right turn lane and northbound right turn lane on Ben Wilson Road where a new road is proposed. The AMP also recommends a westbound right and left turn lane at this location. At West Ten Road where a new road is proposed, the plan calls for right and left turn lanes in all directions.

At West Ten Road and Buckhorn road, along with the proposed intersection of Mt. Willing Road and another new road, the plan suggests right and left turn lanes in all directions. The US-70/I-85 connector is proposed to receive a left turn lane for westbound travelers, a right turn lane for eastbound travelers, and northbound right and left turn lanes. Future intersection improvements could also include roundabouts and and advances in intelligent transportation systems.

The E-B-M AMP does not include proposals for, nor does it seek authorization for, funding right-of-way acquisition. However, an AMP would be a necessary prerequisite to guide the investment to improve access, where necessary. The project does not include a collection of future road design and construction projects, nor does it include a schedule. It also does not guarantee that future development will occur or that roads will be built. There is no immediate financial impact associated with this item.

In early September, the Orange County Planning Board submitted its review of the proposed plan. On September 20, 2018, approximately 1,000 notices were mailed to property owners in and within 1,000 feet of the planning area informing them of the October Planning Board and OUTBoard meetings. On October 19, 2018, approximately 1,000 notices were mailed to property owners in and within 1,000 feet of the planning area informing them of the BOCC Public Hearing.

The Planning Board and OUTBoard meetings in the fall produced a wide range of feedback and proposed measures, including addressing bicycle and pedestrian safety, the possibility of adding roundabouts, limiting lane widths in the planning area, providing more shoulder area along the sides of local runs, and incorporating public transit into the plan.

On November 1 of last year, the County Commissioners opened a Public Hearing for the E-B-M AMP but continued it to February so that planning staff could address any impacts the plan may have on the economic development district. The primary concern raised by the Economic Development Department is the future marketability of relatively large properties where new connector roads bisect the area that have been targeted for economic development purposes.

If the Orange Commissioners approve the implementation of the AMP plan, it will then be part of the county's planning and developmental strategy as it prepares for future growth and infrastructure projects within the AMP's range in the Efland/Mebane/Buckhorn area.