Road Worrier

No perfect choice for rail route

A citizen task force has come up with a hybrid plan that it will present to the Raleigh City Council.

Staff WriterJuly 12, 2011 

  • The Raleigh City Council will discuss a citizen task force proposal for routing light-rail trains through downtown streets at a workshop Aug. 1, and then ask local residents what they think about it.

    Members of the council's Passenger Rail Task Force will explain their D6A Hybrid recommendation for council members at the workshop, which starts at 5:30 p.m. in the council chamber, Upchurch Government Complex, 222 W. Hargett St.

    The public hearing starts at 7 p.m.

Transit planners and a citizen task force may never find the perfect path to carry light-rail trains through the complicated streets of downtown Raleigh.

They've ruled out some wacky options, and they're closing in on plausible choices. Now they're trying to work out a plan that will be good enough to put to a vote next year.

But get ready to find things you like - and things you don't - in whatever they come up with.

"There is no one route that balances every need and overcomes every challenge," said Will Allen III of Raleigh, co-chairman of Raleigh's Passenger Rail Task Force, a citizen committee that is advising the City Council on train and transit issues. "There are advantages and disadvantages to every one."

State government workers and other weekday commuters might like the idea of light-rail stops on Wilmington and Salisbury streets.

But some downtown business owners fret that customers will be put off and traffic will be snarled by 90-foot rail cars that might be combined in three-car trains - each near the length of a football field.

Other proposals would run the trains north and south along Harrington Street, three blocks west of Salisbury.

That could be a boon for Glenwood South, the eat-drink-and-be-merry district nearby. City planners and real-estate investors say a rail line on Harrington is just the thing to stimulate economic development on downtown's west side.

But that's too far west, members of Allen's committee said. They figured that trains on Wilmington and Salisbury would be better for downtown workers, and for economic opportunity in Southeast Raleigh.

This plan had shortcomings, too. To reach the foot of Wilmington Street from West Raleigh, the light-rail trains would have to be elevated on a 6,000-foot-long viaduct starting at Boylan and returning to earth at South Street. It would be hugely expensive.

"Elevated structures like that create dead zones," Allen said. "In terms of economic development and quality of life issues, we didn't want that."

So Allen's group recommended its own plan, a hybrid of those options, that will be the subject of a public hearing Aug. 1. Until somebody comes up with a snappier name, we'll have to call it the D6A Hybrid plan.

Each of the light-rail proposals would use existing rail corridors as much as possible. The approach from North Raleigh follows CSX tracks. Coming from Cary and West Raleigh, it's the N.C. Railroad Corridor, already busy with Norfolk Southern freight and Amtrak passenger trains.

The D6A plan would leave the N.C. Railroad corridor and run the trains down Morgan Street from Charlie Goodnight's Comedy Club to the State Capitol.

The trains would turn north from Morgan onto Wilmington Street, crossing Peace Street on a bridge and then joining the CSX tracks. Returning south on Salisbury, the trains would turn west on Hillsborough Street, south for a block on Harrington, and finally west on Morgan.

Ambitious plans

Wherever they run, the downtown trains are central to an ambitious bus-and-rail plan being developed for Wake, Durham and Orange counties.

Wake County leaders will consider approving their part of the plan next year and calling a referendum on a half-cent local sales tax to help pay for it.

That D6A Hybrid plan has weak spots, too. It focuses on the state government complex north of the Capitol - busy from 9 to 5 weekdays, but deathly quiet the rest of the time.

James Benton, a state worker and civic leader who advises city officials on issues involving people with disabilities, finds some things to like in the new hybrid plan.

"I could live with this," Benton said. "It's starting to make some sense to me. Anything to get the rail system up and going. I just hope and pray I can live long enough to enjoy it."

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527 On the Web at twitter.com/Road_Worrier/ and blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown/. Please include address and daytime phone number.

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