Highway projects take center stage in February City Council discussion

At the February Mebane City Council meeting, the elected board heard from two representatives of the North Carolina Department of Transportation - Mike Fox, Chairman of the NCDOT Board of Transportation, and Wright Archer, Division Engineer for the Mebane area - regarding a series of highway projects currently underway in Mebane. Fox and Archer also discussed multiple other projects that should be coming over the next few years. 

At the February Mebane City Council meeting, the elected board heard from two representatives of the North Carolina Department of Transportation - Mike Fox, Chairman of the NCDOT Board of Transportation, and Wright Archer, Division Engineer for the Mebane area - regarding a series of highway projects currently underway in Mebane. Fox and Archer also discussed multiple other projects that should be coming over the next few years. 

“This is a growing area, which I don’t have to point out to the Council and the Mayor,” Fox said. “The Mebane area is really growing, which is a testament to the people on the Council and the Mayor. I like the Mebane way - I think that’s very unique to the area. 

Archer is a new Division Engineer for NCDOT after serving as an engineer for the organization for the last three decades. He is replacing Mike Mills, who worked for years around Mebane and was instrumental in the N.C. Highway 119 relocation project currently underway west of downtown. 

“We welcome you to Mebane,” Mayor Ed Hooks said to Archer. “We have certainly enjoyed Mr. Fox’s leadership on the DOT board.”

Hooks brought up the two projects currently taking most of the NCDOT’s attention in Mebane - the N.C. Highway 119 relocation project, and the widening of Mebane Oaks Road and the Mebane Oaks Road freeway interchange along the I-40/I-85 corridor. NCDOT has currently set aside approximately $9.24 million in right-of-way takings for the $18 million Mebane Oaks expansion project.

“We have two projects going on. One is the timetable for the 119 relocation, and the Mebane Oaks Boulevard job,” Hooks said. 

“For the Mebane Oaks interchange, it starts at Arrowhead (Boulevard), redoes the signals and crossings, widens the road, doubles the width of the bridge at Mebane Oaks, and includes lane extensions and widening, and sort of necks back down at the signal at Walmart,” explained City Manager Chris Rollins. 

“It has an extension now at the signal towards the land to the east. Is all that still part of the plan?” Rollins asked Archer.  

“Yes sir, that is (still part of the plan),” said Archer in response to the City Manager. 

Archer indicated that the Highway 119 relocation should be completed this summer, while the Mebane Oaks Road project should be getting going in the coming weeks. 

“That’s a project that’s been a challenge,” Archer said of the Highway 119 relocation. “We’re hoping to get that first section complete in the latter part of the summer. And then the second phase of that would be shortly thereafter. So we are moving ahead. We’re meeting with a contractor. Obviously the weather has not helped us. Throughout the last year or so, we’ve had quite a bit of rain on those projects. But we are focused on trying to get those projects wrapped up.” 

“The Mebane Oaks project, that interchange project, will be let this March, actually. So we are moving ahead with that,” Archer continued. 

“Do you think the Mebane Oaks (project) will start before 119 is complete?” asked City Council member Everette Greene. 

“Most likely, it will,” said Archer in response. “It will kind of start on a slow process. We’ll come in, and if it lets in March, that usually means the date of availability will be April or May. But we’ve already had meetings with staff here internally to make sure that we’re looking at the impacts with starting up, versus the other ongoing projects that we have. We have a couple of other smaller projects that we have in the area. That’s something we’re looking at to make sure that any traffic impacts will be minimal.” 

Council member Sean Ewing asked about the logistics of the Mebane Oaks interchange. 

“Are we still sticking with the overpass? No diverging diamond or anything like that? No changes with the plan? And when is the expectation of completion?” 

Archer responded to Ewing by indicating that there have been no changes with the plan, and the anticipated completion for Mebane Oaks Road’s upgrades is scheduled for the latter part of 2023. 

City Manager Rollins also asked about the proposed widening and traffic signal at the intersection of Mebane Oaks Road and Old Hillsborough Road. The developers of The Meadows subdivision allocated funds several years ago for that particular project, but delays on the NCDOT’s part has pushed that project back at least two years. That particular intersection gets backed up multiple times a day, particularly in peak times such as late afternoon, when commuters are returning home from work. 

“Several years ago, as part of The Meadows subdivision, the developer gave some money to us that we then had a Municipal Agreement to give to you for a signal at Mebane Oaks and Old Hillsborough. Where does that stand?” Rollins inquired. 

“That (Old Hillsborough/Mebane Oaks intersection) project had been, because of our budgetary constraints that we faced - we had hurricanes, several major storms come through, and of course the Map Act litigation - but that project was originally last year put on hold. We’ve actually started that project back up,” Archer explained. “The design is complete. Right-of-way acquisitions is about 90 percent complete. What we’re starting on right now, or soon to be, is our utility relocation. Once we get that underway, that project will get underway. So you will see some activity out there hopefully within the next few weeks, or certainly within the next month.” 

Rollins also asked about the proposed expansion of Lowe’s Boulevard to Trollingwood Hawfields Road, which should be started a couple of years down the line, as well as proposed expansions and upgrades to the freeway interchange at Trollingwood Hawfields Road. 

“The 119 project is coming to a close, but there’s an additional project that has been funded from Lowe’s Boulevard down to Trollingwood. Is that still on schedule?” Rollins asked. “Further down the road, an interchange widening and road expansion all along Trollingwood at I-40. Seems like that’s a 2027 date.”

“The let date on that is December 2023,” said Archer in response in regards to the Lowe’s Boulevard/Trollingwood improvements. Archer added that the Trollingwood Hawfields Road improvements were currently scheduled to be completed in 2028. 

Fox and Archer also brought up a series of highway improvements that will be taking place over the next year just to the east of Mebane in Orange County. They also discussed a possible new freeway interchange that could eventually come between Buckhorn Road and Mebane Oaks Road at Mattress Factory Road. Mattress Factory Road currently runs across I-40, but does not allow traffic onto the freeway. The NCDOT is studying the possibility of making that yet another local freeway interchange. 

“Although this is not within the town jurisdiction of the City of Mebane, there’s a pretty big project that we’re getting ready to start right down the road in Orange County,” Fox said. “We know that’s not necessarily within your city limits, but that carries a lot of commerce, and a lot of your residents every day.” 

“We’ve got a design-build project in Orange County on I-40,” Archer added. “I guess you could call it the last piece of the puzzle for the I-40 widening. We were able to bring that project forward in the program, so that will be letting very soon. That will be widening I-40 to the inside, or to the median. That should be underway within the next few months as well.” 

“Is that (Orange County project) from 15-501 to 85 on 40?” asked Council member Tim Bradley.

“Yes sir, it is,” said Archer in response. 

“Is anything being looked at, at the Buckhorn Road exit?” asked Greene of the NCDOT officials.

“I know we had a study there about the possibility of some improvements,” said Fox. “At one point, we had looked at the possibility of another interchange there in-between Mebane Oaks and Buckhorn Road. I know they were studying that. I haven’t kept up on where it came out.” 

“I know we have looked at that, but I don’t know the exact timeline for that, or where we are. But I can certainly get that information and provide that to the Council,” added Archer. 

“We have not seen any movement on Mattress Factory (Road),” said City Manager Rollins. “A contract engineer was hired probably a year or two ago and did some preliminary design on improvements at Buckhorn. I don’t believe that project was finalized, and it has not been funded. But they did do some preliminary engineering about the Buckhorn interchange.” 

Fox indicated that one potential hangup of a future Mattress Factory Road freeway interchange would be getting federal highways to approve the close proximity between the existing exits. There are already three exits in Mebane - Mebane Oaks Road, N.C. Highway 119, and Trollingwood Hawfields Roads - along with the interchanges at Buckhorn Road and the interchange in Haw River at Alamance Community College. 

“The one issue about the possibility of a Mattress Factory interchange would just be getting federal highways to sign off on how close those exits are - which is always a challenge,” Fox explained.  But certainly as you all know, every day there’s a lot of traffic that goes in and out of there. There’s a lot of benefits to having another entrance there. 

Ewing inquired about Peartree and Arrowhead Roads adjacent to Mebane Oaks Road, which can be another difficult area of passage for local residents. 

“Have there been any investigations between Mebane Oaks and Peartree on Arrowhead?” Ewing asked. “There’s some weird turnarounds, or lack thereof, in that area. I’ve nearly been hit, and other people have nearly been hit, at Peartree and Arrowhead. Any investigation going on around there to better improve that?” 

“I’ll certainly look into that,” said Archer. 

“We like to have these meetings periodically, because we get to hear from the community in terms of where the hots spots might be, so we can study an area and see if there are any improvements that we can look into making,” added Fox. 

As the highway discussion concluded, Hooks thanked the NCDOT officials for the work they’re doing to improve traffic flows throughout the Mebane area, and FOX thanked the Mebane City staff for their efforts to communicate and facilitate the various projects. 

“Thank you for everything you do for Mebane,” said Hooks. “You have certainly blessed us with two really great projects (the 119 relocation and Mebane Oaks widening projects). We appreciate that, and look forward to some future things. As Mebane grows, the biggest complaint we have is transportation. We need to work diligently on that.” 

“Your staff is so good to work with,” said Fox. “It is so easy when we have something we’re trying to work on in Mebane. I wanted your Council to know that. That’s not always the case.”