Local Update: Bolin Creek Trail Underpass

We’ve all been there…

You’ve pulled yourself away from your work, laced up your sneakers, and taken one last gulp of water before flying out the door. The beating North Carolina sun won’t make this run any easier, but the shady Bolin Creek Trail will.

Just as you’re settling into your run, you stop dead in your tracks. Who put a four-lane road in the middle of my trail?

After over a year of delays, Chapel Hill residents and visitors alike can anticipate another major improvement to the beloved Bolin Creek Trail. Construction of an underpass will route the three-mile concrete and asphalt trail beneath Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard near Hillsborough Street, eliminating the need to stop and cross the road at the intersection 200 feet away. According to Chapel Hill’s Parks and Recreation Planning and Development Manager, Bill Webster, construction on the underpass will resume on Wednesday, October 2nd.

A map of Chapel Hill trails.
Map of Chapel Hill trails, with the Bolin Creek Trail in purple. Photo credit: Town of Chapel Hill

Webster cited the historic flooding from Hurricane Florence in 2018 and the ongoing coal ash remediation project on and around the Town’s Police Department headquarters as the causes of the delays.

While most of the greenway itself remained intact after Florence, many boulders in the creek were dislodged and relocated, obstructing the creek’s flow. Correcting the creek’s stream is imperative work that requires an in-stream subcontractor. Their work will focus on the segment of the creek near the underpass and will ensure various water quality, safety, and environmental standards are restored. The challenge for the Town was finding a start date for this crucial in-stream work to begin. The coal ash remediation project put this work on hold, and coupled with the high-demand from other communities for the subcontractor’s work in the aftermath of Florence, reaching an agreement on when to begin the in-stream work took longer than expected.

The Town and the in-stream contractor were both able to agree upon the October 2 start date. “It is kind of like if you paint a room, you don’t want to paint yourself into a corner. We have to do the in-stream work first and work our way out from there,” said Webster.

Pending reasonable weather over the next three to four months, the in-stream subcontractor can pass the baton on to S&C Construction, the Wilmington-based civil construction firm contracted for the project.

A bulldozer works on stabilizing the banks along the Bolin Creek. Photo credit: Town of Chapel Hill.

This segment of the Bolin Creek Trail has been one of the most challenging trail construction efforts undertaken by the Town. Building along the steep slopes next to a major stream requires expert planning, engineering, and execution in order to protect the delicate environment of Bolin Creek.

The Bolin Creek Trail project broke ground in June 2015 and receives funding through the Town’s 2001 and 2003 Parks Bonds, as well as from the Town’s Capital Improvement Fund, State grants, and citizen contributions (Town of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation 2006). Currently, the trail is complete except for one 500-foot section east of MLK, which will connect the underpass to the existing trail.

Feature Image: The Bolin Creek Trail follows a natural S-curve in the stream bed. Photo credit: Town of Chapel Hill.

About the Author: Brandon Tubby is a fourth-year undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in public policy with a minor in urban studies and planning. His research interests include gentrification, complete streets, and sustainable development. He competes for the Tar Heels as a distance runner on the varsity cross country and track teams. Brandon’s running recently landed him in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he spent the summer training at 7000 feet elevation and interning with the city’s comprehensive planning department.

Town of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation (2019). Capital and Maintenance Project Update. Retrieved from www.townofchapelhill.org/home/showdocument?id=43438.

Town of Chapel Hill Greenways Commission (2006). Comprehensive Master Plan. Retrieved from www.townofchapelhill.org/Home/ShowDocument?id=1396.

Town of Chapel Hill, NC (2019). Bolin Creek Trail. Retrieved from www.townofchapelhill.org/town-hall/departments-services/parksrecreation/facilities-greenways-parks/greenways/bolin-creek-trail

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