Raleigh gets $21 million federal grant for train station plan

mgarfield@newsobserver.com June 21, 2012 

— The city has landed a $21 million federal grant to begin work on a Grand Central-style train station planned in downtown’s warehouse district.

The TIGER grant means the city can begin track and signal upgrades necessary for Amtrak trains to pull into the station, which would transform a vacant Dillon Supply building into a terminal with a spacious waiting hall.

City, state and federal dignitaries will gather Friday afternoon at the site of the future station to formally announce the grant.

The city asked for $60 million from the federal government as part of a joint application with N.C. Department of Transportation and Triangle Transit. The $21 million will go toward track improvements, with station renovations to come later.

“You can’t make the station happen without doing the track work first,” said Eric Lamb, the city’s transportation planning manager. “This (money) is not going to get us the station. This is going to get us starting on the station.”

Raleigh officials had said they were not optimistic about winning even a small amount because of the number of communities competing for limited federal dollars.

In the last round of the TIGER program, the U.S. Department of Transportation chose 46 projects from a field of 848 applicants.

The rail hub would represent the first component of Union Station, a network of downtown transit venues providing service for local, regional and Greyhound buses, a commuter rail line and future light-rail system.

“This is a major step toward transforming not only our transportation network but also the west side of downtown,” said planning director Mitchell Silver. “We envision Union Station to be a Gateway to the South, and this grant will help us move closer to that reality.”

The total price for the station rose to $75 million after site planners added track, platform and signal improvements and factored in the need for changes on West Street.

An extension of West Street will allow pedestrians, cyclists and cars to travel on a roadway beneath the tracks.

The money would come from a mix of city, state and federal sources. The new figures drew questions from City Councilman John Odom, who cast the lone vote in March against setting aside $7 million in city matching money.

Odom called the project an “expensive proposition.”

A modern, well-designed train station would send a message to visitors, said Councilman Bonner Gaylord.

The new building would replace the city’s current Amtrak station, a cramped depot on Cabarrus Street.

“First impressions are very important,” Gaylord said. “I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the new airport terminal and how their perception is very strong from the moment they arrive.”

The TIGER program is intended to spur tough-to-finance projects that have a significant impact on a region or metropolitan area.

The federal money, part of a program devised by the White House, comes as President Obama lavishes attention on North Carolina in hopes of replicating his victory in the 2008 election.

The campaign is running television ads in markets across the state. In September, Charlotte will host the Democratic National Convention.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane has been a frequent guest at the White House during her first year in office.

McFarlane attended the annual Easter Egg Roll and also met President Obama while in Washington for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting.

McFarlane, an independent, ran with backing from local Democrats and handily defeated two Republican opponents in the fall election. McFarlane has not made an endorsement in the presidential race.

Garfield: 919-836-4952

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