WEST CHAPEL HILL ST. UNDERPASS

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WEST CHAPEL HILL ST. UNDERPASS

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  • Submitted by Phil on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 - 3:42am

    What a thing that would have been -- downtown Durham with all that traffic in trains, trolleys, cars, and feet.

    I so wish I could time travel.

  • Submitted by Michael on Thursday, January 11, 2007 - 6:13am

    Gary,

    Do you happen to know anything about train trenches? I've gotten the idea in my head recently that downtown could solve an awful lot of problems -- objections from NCRR about TTA using their rails, the safety issues at Blackwell St., NCRR's refusal to put in pedestrian improvements at Broad/Swift, and in the long run, the big problem of where to put the high speed rail corridor, by lowering the tracks into a trench.

    Reno is in the process of putting in their trench through downtown, at a total cost of around $285 million for a 2.3 mile trench, which is roughly $125 million/mile. Costs would vary greatly depending on soil type, utility crossings, the number of street crossings built, etc., but I think Durham would, at the low end, need 2-2.5 miles of trench to do just downtown proper and environs, and just over 4 miles to do my preference, which is Anderson to Alston. It's a huge chunk of money, of course, but I think it could defray some of the costs that have put TTA over a barrel, and with the high speed rail looming, there might be some federal funds there.

    The only real intersections where trenching would cause complications would be Chapel Hill St., which this post makes me think isn't such a bad thing to reverse; Gregson St., which is kind of a mess there anyway; Erwin Rd., which is complicated just because putting the rail below grade would make one want to put the freeway below grade too, and that's a much bigger project (even if a good one); and Roxboro St., where even if the grade would work fine, you'd have to take out that beautiful old WPA crossing.

  • Submitted by Sven on Thursday, January 11, 2007 - 12:56pm

    Michael

    I know about as much as you've laid out here already - pictures of the Reno project, generally considered cost-prohibitive, etc. It would be really nice to have a separated rail corridor for the reasons you mention. I very much doubt that there would be Federal funds available unless David Price gets a lot more powerful and makes it his pet project or some such turn of events. FTA funds are just so limited, as we've seen with TTA already.

    From an urban design perspective, I think it would require a good deal of thought about the overall impact. I doubt that if someone agreed to pay for this that they would be satisfied with our current single-track situation east and west of downtown. How wide would the trench need to be? What effect would that have on spots like Pops/Morgan Imports/Brightleaf? Could you 'cap' it at certain spots to maintain (or even improve) a streetscape at the current grade crossings? Would the topography actually better accommodate a combination of below-grade and above-grade? Etc.

    Cool thought - thanks for sharing it. Unfortunately, instead of innovative thinking, we've got stuff like the Alston Ave. widening moving forward, evidently, so far, without the proposed improvements that the city and community have asked for to mitigate negative effects on pedestrians.

    GK

  • Submitted by Anonymous on Tuesday, April 8, 2008 - 5:56pm

    Your blog is fantastic and I apologize for commenting on old posts. Just wanted to help because I think you are correct about the last B&W picture being Campus Drive--the picture would be taken looking up the hill toward the east. The warehouse at the top right is the west end of the Smith Warehouse (114 S Buchanan). The foreground is where the East Campus steam plant and support buildings are now, surrounded by Maxwell St/Sumter St/Pettigrew. There are three underpasses on Campus Drive after the Durham Freeway going toward East Campus (to the left of this picture); this would be Pettigrew and out of the frame to the left would be the railroad and finally Main St.

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Last updated

  • Fri, 03/09/2012 - 7:11pm by gary

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West Chapel Hill Street was initially a grade crossing at the railroad tracks, with the business district surrounding Five Points on the east side, and the large houses of the West End on the west side.


West Chapel Hill St., looking east from Willard towards Five Points, 1920s
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


West Chapel Hill St., looking west from Great Jones towards Willlard, Duke, etc., 1920s
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


West Chapel Hill St. - another view looking west from Great Jones with downtown-bound trolley approaching crossing, 1920s.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


The busy West Chapel Hill St. crossing, from the Duke Factory, looking southeast. American Tobacco (the Bull building) is in the background. The wooden tower in this picture and others was for the crossing guard.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

In 1922, the city passed an ordinance requiring the railroad to eliminate the grade crossing at West Chapel Hill St. Work started in 1924, and continued for the next several years.


View looking west from Five Points at the beginning of construction.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


Looking east from the tracks towards Five Points.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


Looking north on Great Jones - the Southern Feed Warehouse is on the left and the Globe Warehouse beyond it. Note in all of these pictures the significant amount of re-grading on the east side of the tracks (well into the business district.)
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


Looking east down West Chapel Hill St.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


From Southgate Jones' front yard, looking northwest. The Terrace, moved from its previous site, is to the left. Notice the wrought iron fence from the Southgate Jones house dumped on the front lawn.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


Looking west from the new undepass up West Chapel Hill St. - large house on the left is at the corner of Pettigrew and West Chapel Hill St. next to (to the east of) the Southgate Jones house.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


Southgate Jones house, looking southeast from West Chapel Hill St.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

While the topography around this underpass seems 'normal' today, views of the project make clear the extent to which the slopes around this underpass on Great Jones, West Chapel Hill, and Pettigrew, are artificial.


The crossing from Great Jones, looking west. 2007


The crossing from the middle of West Chapel Hill St. (showing my death-defying devotion to this blog!), looking east.

Two interesting points from this:
1) It's interesting that proximity to downtown trumped any nuisance from the railroads - the houses at Willard, Duke, and Chapel Hill St. were among the 'highest-end' residences in Durham at that time. I think it challenges our notions of how 'protected' our residences need to be when proximity to other benefits increases.

2) The push to eliminate the grade crossing was undoubtedly a safety issue. But what were the more subtle, long-term consequences of creating a stronger division between Five Points and West End. As tension plays out between the city and the railroad at the Blackwell St. crossing (with the parties' positions reversed at this point) it's a reasonable question to keep in mind.

Comments

What a thing that would have been -- downtown Durham with all that traffic in trains, trolleys, cars, and feet.

I so wish I could time travel.

Gary,

Do you happen to know anything about train trenches? I've gotten the idea in my head recently that downtown could solve an awful lot of problems -- objections from NCRR about TTA using their rails, the safety issues at Blackwell St., NCRR's refusal to put in pedestrian improvements at Broad/Swift, and in the long run, the big problem of where to put the high speed rail corridor, by lowering the tracks into a trench.

Reno is in the process of putting in their trench through downtown, at a total cost of around $285 million for a 2.3 mile trench, which is roughly $125 million/mile. Costs would vary greatly depending on soil type, utility crossings, the number of street crossings built, etc., but I think Durham would, at the low end, need 2-2.5 miles of trench to do just downtown proper and environs, and just over 4 miles to do my preference, which is Anderson to Alston. It's a huge chunk of money, of course, but I think it could defray some of the costs that have put TTA over a barrel, and with the high speed rail looming, there might be some federal funds there.

The only real intersections where trenching would cause complications would be Chapel Hill St., which this post makes me think isn't such a bad thing to reverse; Gregson St., which is kind of a mess there anyway; Erwin Rd., which is complicated just because putting the rail below grade would make one want to put the freeway below grade too, and that's a much bigger project (even if a good one); and Roxboro St., where even if the grade would work fine, you'd have to take out that beautiful old WPA crossing.

Michael

I know about as much as you've laid out here already - pictures of the Reno project, generally considered cost-prohibitive, etc. It would be really nice to have a separated rail corridor for the reasons you mention. I very much doubt that there would be Federal funds available unless David Price gets a lot more powerful and makes it his pet project or some such turn of events. FTA funds are just so limited, as we've seen with TTA already.

From an urban design perspective, I think it would require a good deal of thought about the overall impact. I doubt that if someone agreed to pay for this that they would be satisfied with our current single-track situation east and west of downtown. How wide would the trench need to be? What effect would that have on spots like Pops/Morgan Imports/Brightleaf? Could you 'cap' it at certain spots to maintain (or even improve) a streetscape at the current grade crossings? Would the topography actually better accommodate a combination of below-grade and above-grade? Etc.

Cool thought - thanks for sharing it. Unfortunately, instead of innovative thinking, we've got stuff like the Alston Ave. widening moving forward, evidently, so far, without the proposed improvements that the city and community have asked for to mitigate negative effects on pedestrians.

GK

Your blog is fantastic and I apologize for commenting on old posts. Just wanted to help because I think you are correct about the last B&W picture being Campus Drive--the picture would be taken looking up the hill toward the east. The warehouse at the top right is the west end of the Smith Warehouse (114 S Buchanan). The foreground is where the East Campus steam plant and support buildings are now, surrounded by Maxwell St/Sumter St/Pettigrew. There are three underpasses on Campus Drive after the Durham Freeway going toward East Campus (to the left of this picture); this would be Pettigrew and out of the frame to the left would be the railroad and finally Main St.

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