If you ask just about anyone in the Chapel Hill community, they can share a way the construction on North Estes Drive affected their travel.

Especially, perhaps, Mayor Jess Anderson, who stood on the new sidewalks and bike path along the road to speak to a gathered crowd on Tuesday morning.

“As the mayor and an Estes Drive neighbor,” she said, “I am doubly excited to cut the ribbon on this amazing new project that will allow everyone to bike, walk, roll – in strollers, wheelchairs, on the bus – to and from so many places nearby and throughout town.”

While the closure to two-way vehicle traffic garnered much attention and frustration across two years of construction, the project itself along North Estes Drive is largely meant for those not in cars — as Anderson use the town’s over-sized pair of scissors to trim a ribbon and formally welcome people using the sidewalks. The road and sidewalks themselves were officially opened to all forms of traffic on Wednesday, June 12.

The ribbon-cutting was held to thank many of the Estes Drive residents and community members who had front-row seats to seeing the Estes Drive Connectivity Project unfold – both the construction of the sidewalks and road lanes, and all of the utility work that added about one year to the length of the build-out. Anderson thanked the dozens of those in attendance for their “grace and humor” in adjusting to and dealing with the disruption, which even included residents bringing skeletons decorated in construction gear to Tuesday’s event.


Chapel Hill Town Manager Chris Blue joked that several residents around the project have kept consistent communication with the local government for updates on North Estes Drive, including one woman who he says asked every day.

“And that’s my mom, who lives not far from here,” said Blue to laughs from the crowd. “And I have heard it from her over and over again about what a pain in the neck this is.”

Tuesday’s ceremony was also to recognize Chapel Hill’s staff. Bringing more pedestrian and bicycle connections to the popular road has been in the works for years, dating back to the Central West Small Area Plan adopted in 2013. Between then and now, dozens of staffers have had a hand in the planning, coordination, communication and execution – which Blue tried to encapsulate on Tuesday with his praise.

“To all of our town team members who’ve poured so much into this important project and shown such great passion: thank you,” he said. “Thank you for sticking with it. You spent countless hours making these improvements a reality. This includes many, many hours clearing regulatory hurdles and tackling late challenges, all while keeping your eye on the prize: a better, safer way to move around in our town.”

Bergen Watterson, who is the Transportation Planning Manager for Chapel Hill, said the Estes Drive Connectivity Project is critical to the town’s Vision Zero commitments. The initiative is to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries to pedestrians by 2031, doing so through the improvement of amenities, safety measures and traffic strategies. Months before ground broke to begin work on the improvements, Estes Drive was the site of a near-fatal crash between a driver and two pedestrians, as a pair of middle school students were struck during the night of New Year’s Eve while using a crosswalk.

“This [project is] showing the driving public that the town prioritizes what we call ‘vulnerable road users’ – those who travel outside of single occupancy vehicles,” Watterson said to Chapelboro. “The more that there’s a critical mass and [we] get more bicycles, more pedestrians, more people using these facilities, [it] makes drivers more aware that people are using the roads and will hopefully drive with a little more care.”

Chapel Hill Transportation Planning Manager Bergen Watterson speaks at the North Estes Drive ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 18. 2024. Behind her are some of the pedestrian improvements to the road: new sidewalks, space for bicycles, and updated crosswalks with flashing lights.

The Estes Drive Connectivity Project will also allow the town to further pedestrian connection to key parts of Chapel Hill. Watterson said bike-and-ped improvements for Estes Drive Extension, an extension to the Bolin Creek Greenway, and a stop for the future North South Bus Rapid Transit line are all helped by these amenities now being finished.

And while Watterson echoed the thanks to Estes Drive residents and Chapel Hill community for their patience and understanding through the construction…

“Maybe get ready for more,” she said. “I mean, hopefully not as long construction projects [as this one], but the town is going to continue to create roads that accommodate everybody – because that’s what we do now.”

Finishing touches to North Estes Drive are still being made, with Watterson saying the final paving is set to begin overnight on Sunday. A bigger community celebration organized by Chapel Hill, described as a roll and stroll, is set for Saturday, August 24 at 10 a.m. in which the whole community is invited to use and celebrate the sidewalks and bike paths.


Photo via the Town of Chapel Hill.

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