A new 15-501

You may know 15-501 as “Tobacco Road” – the 10 miles or so between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Or, you may think of it as the connector to places like the South Square development in Durham, or the Eastgate shopping area in Chapel Hill.

You may soon know it as one of the region’s growing list of “FAST” corridors that prioritizes transit while improving travel for all modes of transportation.

The Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO), an RTA Leadership Team member, has recently completed a study of the 15-501 corridor. You can view a presentation, summary report, and even strip maps for the proposal recommendations.

At our September RTA Steering Committee meeting this week, RTA endorsed the recommended improvement concept for the corridor, while recognizing that additional dialogue with key stakeholders could provide even higher benefits.

The recommended concept includes the following for US 15-501, from north to south:

  • Removal of all traffic signals on US 15-501 from the end of the Durham US 15-501 bypass to I-40
  • Conversion of US 15-501 to a synchronized street (superstreet) south of I-40 to Fordham Blvd
  • Creation of transit priority lanes for this entire section of 15-501, both north and south of I-40

The recommended concept also includes a smaller footprint for US 15-501 Business in Durham, from the South Square interchange with US 15-501 to University Drive.

From an RTA perspective, we want to highlight the following additional benefits of this exciting concept:

  • The project will effectively create a Durham County freeway loop, via I-40, US 15-501, I-85, and (by next year) I-885
  • The project will provide several miles of new transit priority lanes, which will advance the development of a regionwide Freeway And Street-based Transit (FAST) network, and complement other corridors including the upcoming bus rapid transit (BRT) in Chapel Hill along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd (NC 86)
  • The project will activate additional pedestrian and bicycle facilities, both along and across (over) US 15-501, particularly in the area just north of I-40 near Mount Moriah and other roadways

We are excited about the potential of these improvements. We will be working with several RTA partners, including The Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro and the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, to explore and highlight additional opportunities to improve or accelerate this recommended concept for the corridor. Our suggestions might include:

  • Operating outside bus priority lanes along US 15-501 as RED transit lanes, allowing Right-turns, Emergency vehicles, and Driveway access
  • For US 15-501 Business, converting parking lanes to bus priority lanes during peak periods, and/or modifying lane or median widths to create bus priority lanes
  • Creating median or capped transit lanes, and/or activating Bus On Shoulder System (BOSS), along US 15-501 north of I-40
  • Identifying ways to accelerate or scale certain elements of the recommended concept, or complementary improvements, so that we can realize the benefits sooner.

More to come on this and other potential transportation improvements in our market.

Let’s get moving,


Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director

RTA is the voice of the regional business community on transportation


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