Key Chapel Hill road reopens to all traffic after 2 years, but work isn’t entirely done

Drivers, pedestrians and cyclists started moving in both directions on Estes Drive Wednesday after over two years of construction and detours.

Estes Drive closed to westbound traffic from Franklin Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in April 2022 after a six-month delay to move existing utilities. The detours have caused heavy traffic backups on Weaver Dairy Road, Hillsborough Road and Franklin Street during the evening commute.

The $6 million-plus project added a 10-foot wide multi-use path, a 5-foot sidewalk and bike lanes, plus new pedestrian crosswalks at Phillips Middle and Estes Hills Elementary schools and at the Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard intersection.

The reopening is cause for celebration, and the town will mark the end of the project with a ribbon-cutting and parade.

The ribbon-cutting is Tuesday at 10 a.m. on the Estes Drive sidewalk in front of Phillips Middle Schoo, according to an email update released Wednesday night.

The town is planning a biking and walking parade on the new sidepath this fall when students return to school in the fall.

Is there still work to do?

Occasional lane closures are still possible in the next few weeks as construction crews add the finishing touches, including concrete pedestrian islands at Estes Drive and Caswell Road and at Estes and Somerset drives. New turn lanes will open to traffic at Estes Drive and MLK Jr. Boulevard.

A crew will also return to the corridor in a few weeks to lay a final layer of pavement and paint permanent stripes on the road, staff said, adding that work is expected to happen at night.

The developer of the Aura Booth Park (formerly Aura Chapel Hill) project under construction at 1000 MLK Jr. Blvd. is expected to finish the last stretch of the pedestrian and bike projects on the north side of Estes Drive, from Somerset Drive to MLK Jr. Boulevard.

Aura Booth Park could begin leasing to tenants this fall, according to the management company’s website. The development could have up to 361 apartments, 58 townhouses, 12,450 square feet of retail, three parks and other recreation on the 15-acre site.