DOT and Alston Avenue: the impasse continues

By Ashley Gadsden
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

The battle continues between the Durham City Council, community members and the state Department of Transportation. Last week’s city hall meeting was just another standoff without a final decision in the widening of Alston Avenue.

Alston Avenue in its current state. Under the DOT’s plan, it would become a four-lane divided highway. Community members largely disagree with the plan which they claim would allow people to drive faster in an area that is heavily used by pedestrians. (Staff photo by Belinda Dunn)

The city hall meeting was opened by Mayor William V. “Bill” Bell and a panel of nine council members, along with Mark Ahrendsen, Director of the Department of Transportation.

A number of individuals voiced their feelings about the widening of Alston Avenue and others filled the room, including the media, and approximately 20 members of Delta Sigma Theta Organization.

As the meeting progressed, “expressing the city’s preference of the widening of Alston Avenue” certainly proved to be the main topic of discussion, according to Howard Clement II of the panel for the city council.

The conversation proved to be a familiar one as Ahrendsen provided what appeared to be reinforced reasons why Alston Avenue should be widened. Some citizens support the project while others oppose the project and fear for the negative effects it will have on them and their community.  According to Ahrendsen, there are a “variety of factors” that will be corrected by the widening of Alston Avenue.

The DOT plans to transform the current three-lane Alston Avenue (N.C. 55) into a four-lane divided highway between the Durham Freeway and Holloway Street.

According to “The Durham News” in early March, “the city transportation department recommended the council support DOT’s plans, but use the new outside lanes for on-street parking and bicycle lanes until traffic counts warrant using the entire width for vehicles.”

According to Ahrendsen, there is currently a 55 to 80 second delay in the transition of traffic during peak hours with the current three-lane highway.

This project has many people’s attention, especially the people of the community who are very passionate in their views. The council allowed about nine individuals two minutes to express their concerns about the project.

Most of the speakers oppose the project and want their community to remain the same, as they believe it will disturb their life and everyday practices they are accustomed to.

Jordan Capps, a member of the community, opposes the project and has been following it for the last several years, but especially over the past two years since moving to the neighborhood.

“We live in a wonderful neighborhood and look forward to being a part of its continued growth,” said Capps. He and his wife renovated a 100-year-old house over the past two years and plan to marry in their backyard in April.

Don Yarborough, on the other hand, supports DOT’s plans to reconstruct the three-lane highway. As a business owner of Yarborough and Hessie Warehouse, Yarborough feels the four-lane highway “is a need, not a want, a need.”

His business has been in the neighborhood since 2003, and Yarborough believes if the highway is widened, accident rates will decrease.

“The sidewalks will be a plus for Eastway Elementary School and people who walk,” said Yarborough.

Yarborough feels the widening will bring economic development to the area and also feels a neighborhood Hispanic-owned grocery, Los Primos, is detrimental to the community.

“Los Primos cannot abide by the law, and NECD deserves better,” said Yarborough.

The DOT would need a vast amount of the store’s property to succeed in widening the highway; however, the current widening plan involves taking land from the Durham Rescue Mission, which is across the street from Los Primos.

Other citizens expressed their concern about beautifying the community with better sidewalks, crosswalks and street lighting; however, that is not the DOT’s goal. They are only focused on widening Alston Avenue.

The project will cost approximately $25 million, with 80 percent of the money coming from federal  funding and 20 percent from state funding.

If the city council and DOT don’t reach an agreement, the city of Durham loses the money and DOT may use the money for another project in North Carolina.

“The dilemma is we don’t know what we’re voting for,” said council member Diane Catotti.

City council member Eugene Brown brought his personal experience into his concern about the widening of the highway. He lives in a neighborhood that was divided.

“I’ve always believed people are more important than automobiles,” said Brown.

While DOT’s purpose is to reduce congestion and improve safety, Capps feels that the new road will be “a scar dividing our neighborhood.”

“It’s a split down the middle in order to let a decreasing number of cars drive faster for a few blocks,” said Capps.

Without a final decision, community members such as Capps and Yarborough still have time to voice their opinions.

“We will continue to look for ways to promote safe roads that enhance the quality of life for pedestrians and cyclists while also increasing access to local stores,” said Capps. “We do not want to fight against NCDOT, rather we want Durham City Council to negotiate a development plan that works for the long-term benefit of our community.”

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