Raleigh City Council to discuss rail plan

A vote could come Tuesday on controversial routes through Raleigh

Staff WriterSeptember 6, 2010 

On the heels of a packed public hearing last week, Raleigh's City Council on Tuesday will discuss potential routes for a high-speed train and could vote on which route to recommend to the state Department of Transportation.

The council heard from 27 speakers at last Monday's packed public hearing. Most of those were opponents of the route city staff and a resident task force have recommended to the council.

Tuesday's council meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. in the council chambers.

"Council will certainly make comments about the possible impacts of projected routes," Mayor Charles Meeker said. "Whether there will be a preferred route or not, I'm not sure."

The N.C. Department of Transportation is refining a $2.3 billion plan to build a Raleigh-to-Richmond, Va., line as part of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor from Charlotte to Washington.

The high-speed train, traveling up to 110 mph, is expected to cut nearly two hours off trips.

It's slated to go through the Capital City in one of two proposed routes, which have been the subject of heated debate.

Though it's a state project, Raleigh's recommendation is significant because the rail will alter local businesses and part of downtown.

The two routes under consideration would close different downtown streets in a two-mile stretch between Jones Street and Wake Forest Road.

One route is along the Norfolk Southern tracks on the west side of Capital Boulevard, the other would use the CSX corridor on the east side.

Raleigh staff and a resident-led Passenger Rail Task Force have recommended using the Norfolk Southern route, with certain conditions. They made the recommendation to the City Council at its Aug. 3 meeting.

Norfolk Southern and members of the Five Points community oppose that option, which is more expensive and would displace more businesses, but would be less disruptive to downtown and some surrounding neighborhoods.

The Norfolk Southern route would also close Jones Street , severing the main connection between downtown and Glenwood South. Jones Street would stay open if the DOT chose the CSX corridor, but it would be elevated for almost four blocks between Boylan Avenue and Dawson Street and cars and pedestrians would have to pass high above Glenwood. The CSX option also would close West and Harrington streets just north of Jones.

Traffic flow will change either way because every street the rail crosses on the 162-mile track from Raleigh to Richmond will be either closed or replaced with a bridge. The aim is to prevent collisions with trains that would roll through Raleigh at high speeds.

Meeker met with city staff late last week to review any negative impacts the train would have to Five Points, and to see what could be done to lessen those impacts.

Five Points residents proposed another alternative at last Monday's public hearing: a hybrid of the CSX and Norfolk Southern options that calls for elevating the tracks near downtown over Capital Boulevard and other streets to avoid closing them. DOT analysts have said the plan has engineering problems.

But Philip Poe, chairman of the Five Points Citizen Advisory Council, said residents will continue to push for that option.

No 'concrete walls'

Though most council members aren't yet taking a position, opponents of the Norfolk Southern route have found an ally in Council Member John Odom, who already has urged his colleagues on the council to oppose the route favored by city staff.

"I'm with the neighbors on this," said Odom, who represents Raleigh's District B, which includes Five Points. "I hope council will step up and remove [the Norfolk Southern] option from the table, even though our staff said that's what should happen. I hope DOT will look hard at the hybrid option."

Thomas Crowder, who represents District D in West Raleigh, sympathizes with the neighbors and said he wants to make sure any measures to reduce noise are consistent with the character of the neighborhoods.

"I want to make sure there aren't concrete walls like you would see on an interstate," Crowder said.

ray.martin@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4952

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