Raleigh rail bridge wins praise

Costlier, but fewer problems

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comSeptember 28, 2011 

  • Find rail project information, including maps of NC5 and two other rail paths still under consideration, at the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor website: sehsr.org.

— A proposed railroad bridge over Capital Boulevard would cost more than other options for routing fast passenger trains through downtown Raleigh. But state engineers say it would cause fewer problems for businesses, neighborhoods, streams and historic sites.

The new route drew favorable reviews Tuesday from some of about 200 residents who came to a public meeting to look at big wall maps and hear explanations from state Department of Transportation engineers.

"It appears to me that it doesn't disturb as much property and the rights of property owners as the other proposals do," said Marita Gilliam, who lives in the Hayes Barton neighborhood, a few blocks from the railroad tracks. "It seems to facilitate high-speed trains, and that's what I'm interested in."

Residents who live near Five Points worried about locomotive noise and destructive vibration last year when DOT said it might run the trains along Norfolk Southern Railway tracks just west of Capital Boulevard. That idea is one of three options still on the table.

But DOT won praise Tuesday for its new proposal to push the tracks farther away from residential property and to send the trains on a 700-foot-long bridge over West Street and Capital Boulevard, between Peace Street and Wade Avenue.

Rick Baker, a neighborhood leader in Glenwood Brooklyn, near Five Points, said the Capital Boulevard bridge option was a big improvement. "These guys listened to what the citizens had to say," Baker said. "And they came up with a much better alternative."

NC5 more costly option

It's part of DOT's work on a proposed $2 billion, 162-mile track for trains that would run as fast as 110 mph between Raleigh and Richmond, Va.

The high-speed rail line would be 35 miles shorter than the route now used by Amtrak, and DOT says it would cut about two hours of travel time for trips to Washington and the Northeast.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded North Carolina's DOT $4 million Tuesday to finish designing the Raleigh-to-Richmond route, but no construction funds have been approved.

North Carolina has received more than $500 million in federal funds for the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor from Charlotte to Washington, D.C.

The new downtown route devised by DOT engineers - called NC5 - would be the most expensive option for a 3.4-mile segment of the rail path from a planned station near Hargett Street north to Whitaker Mill Road: a total estimated cost of $158.4 million.

NC5 would force 48 businesses to relocate, instead of the 54 businesses that would be displaced by the Five Points route, called NC3.

The NC5 right-of-way costs would be $11 million less.

But the long Capital Boulevard bridge would push its construction costs $32 million higher than NC3's.

Gerald Daniel of Knightdale, who works in downtown Raleigh, didn't think NC5 was worth the extra money. "I guess the cost doesn't outweigh the benefits of NC5," Daniel said.

Fred Thornhill of Raleigh was skeptical about the entire rail project. "It's going to be a project that our kids down the road are going to be paying for forever," he said. "This is going to be the rich man's toy, but we're going to pay for it."

NC5's benefits

Marc W. Hamel, the DOT rail project manager, said routing the trains across Capital Boulevard would sharply reduce projected noise and vibration impacts on existing buildings.

NC5 is the only option that avoids harm to historic sites including Seaboard Station, the Cotton Mill, Pilot Mills, Raleigh Bonded Warehouse and residential neighborhoods on both sides of Capital Boulevard. That distinction will give it a leg up with federal regulators who will consider DOT's recommendation for a rail route to Richmond.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or twitter.com/Road_Worrier

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