Top 5 Takeaways from the 2045 Transportation Plan

What will transportation in the Triangle look like in 30 years? The Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO) in conjunction with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) is currently seeking feedback on their latest plan for transportation through the year 2045.

But, how many people will actually read through the 141-page PDF? For those looking for a more manageable length, I have put together my top 5 takeaways from this new plan and how they might impact Durham and the Triangle.

Population Estimations

Before you can start to build a plan for transportation, you have to have a sense of how many people you will be serving. The plan delivers this chart:

What struck me is that while the Raleigh area is estimated to almost double in population from 2013 to 2045, the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro population is only expected to go up a little over 50%. For better or for worse, I think the Durham area will grow faster than that. Now, of course, I am using my own observations and biases, not the computer models that the MPOs are using, so take my stance with a grain of salt, but I was certainly surprised to see these numbers and hope that the Durham area isn't shooting too low with this plan (only to be overwhelmed by more population growth than expected).

Major Road Projects

Between now and 2045, the Durham area has some big plans for the interstates and highways in the area. While these projects will likely cause construction traffic headaches in the short term, I like the position that they put Durham in going forward. Below is a chart from the report:

Travel time between Wake and Durham counties in both directions has been a problem for a few years now. I am personally familiar with the Durham Freeway and I-40 during rush hour (yuck). That's why I am excited to see the free conversion of US-70 along with the East End Connector project (that gigantic overpass project currently over the Durham Freeway). Having another highway route from Durham to Wake/Raleigh will be fantastic.

The widening of the Durham Freeway will be a welcome change as well. Decisions haven't yet been made on exactly how the "managed lanes" on I-40 will work. I imagine it will be an HOV lane, but I hope we won't have to deal with tolls on I-40 between Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Top everything off with widening I-40 and I-85 as well as the 15-501 freeway conversion, and there is a lot to like about the future of the roads here. I hope that it's enough! The rise of driverless cars may help smooth out the traffic situation as well. Note: the report has specific road-by-road projects that you should check out.

Public Transportation

The headliner for public transportation in the area is the Durham-Orange Light Rail that will go from Chapel Hill to Durham. In addition to being useful for commuters and cutting down on road traffic, I think it will modernize the look/feel of Durham as well as Chapel Hill. Below are the public transit updates from the report:

  • Durham-Orange Light Rail is tentatively scheduled to begin construction in 2020 and be complete by 2028
  • Extension of the Durham-Orange Light Rail to downtown Carrboro is scheduled for 2035-2045
  • Commuter Rail connecting Raleigh/Cary/Garner to RTP/Durham/is being discussed. This project isn't as far along as the light rail and the "initial phase" is tentatively set for sometime between 2026 and 2035
  • An extension of the commuter rail line to Hillsborough to the west and Clayton to the East has also been proposed for evaluation for the 2036-2045 time frame.
  • Commitment to increased frequency and expanded service area for buses (ongoing)
These big projects feel as though they are a long way off, but we are just a few years from the start of construction on the Durham-Orange Light Rail. These projects are massive undertakings, but again, will cause more construction headaches in the short term. As for the bus plan, it may not be as sexy as the light rail project, but it is good to see resources being used to improve that system. There were not many details in the report about just how far the improvements will go, though.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Commitment

The Metropolitan Transportation Plan doesn't address specific bicycle and pedestrian projects, deferring to specific, localized plans. However, the DCHC MPO does include the following statement.
The DCHC MPO bicycle and pedestrian policy basically expects any roadway or other transportation project, whether it is a new or improved facility, to include appropriate pedestrian and bicycle accommodations.
Sure, I would love to see majestic walking/biking bridges connecting Main St to the American Tobacco Campus, or similarly grand plans. However, I will take better sidewalks on streets like W Corporation. Small steps are a start in building a more connected city.

In terms of investment, the plan does lay out how much money it plans to dedicate to bicycle and pedestrian projects:
I appreciate the large amount of funds dedicated to projects in Durham. However, the budget for the Raleigh area is larger, even on a per capita basis.

The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles

I was thrilled to see that autonomous vehicles (grouped under Intelligent Transportation Systems - ITS) were featured in this report. The report wisely believes that significant market penetration of autonomous vehicles won't happen until the later part of the plan (closer to 2045). However, it concedes that it could happen sooner and there is a plan to meet, discuss, and update the plan as the technology rolls out.


The Metropolitan Transportation Plan covers these  and other projects in greater detail. If you are interested, please do check it out for yourself. It touches on areas such as RDU, budgets, their process, and software systems that they use for the plan. RDU in particular is interesting and I may have a post on RDU's Vision2040 plan in the future. For now, there is a lot to be both excited about in the long term and concerned about in the short term (construction woes). Overall, Durham and the Triangle are in a good position going forward.

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