Raleigh’s Union Station, West Street extension taking shape

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMarch 3, 2013 

  • Want to go?

    What: Raleigh Union Station and West Street extension public information session

    When: 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday

    Where: Meymandi Concert Hall lobby of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 South St., Raleigh

    For more information: raleighnc.gov or ncdot.gov/projects/raleighunionstation

  • Who pays?

    State transportation officials and Raleigh leaders spent much of last year lining up $60 million in funding for the Union Station project. Here’s the final breakdown:

    $43.3 million: Federal funding, including $21 million from the Obama administration’s TIGER grants to support transit

    $9 million: N.C. Department of Transportation

    $6 million: City of Raleigh

    $1.4 million: Value of land and Viaduct building donated by Triangle Transit Authority

— Not long after its transformation from post-industrial dead zone to arts-and-nightlife hot spot, downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District is gearing up for more sweeping changes.

Crews are already busy building Citrix Systems’ new offices in a hollowed-out brick warehouse on West Street. But perhaps the biggest catalyst for redevelopment will go next door to the tech company: Raleigh’s new $60 million Union Station, set to open for Amtrak and commuter trains in 2017.

For months, architects from the Raleigh firm Clearscapes have been designing the station in the old Dillon Supply Viaduct building at the end of West Martin Street. They’ll offer a first look at the drawings and solicit feedback during a public workshop Wednesday night at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

“It’s a terrific opportunity to reuse an old industrial building,” Raleigh City Councilman Russ Stephenson said.

Clearscapes architects released the latest blueprint of the station’s interior Saturday. A spacious, high-ceilinged waiting area will take up much of the building, along with a first-class passenger lounge and three restaurant or retail spaces. Amtrak employees will have room to spread out, too, with their own locker room, gym and quiet room.

Underground passageways will run east to a pedestrian plaza entrance on West Street and south to Amtrak and commuter rail platforms. Amtrak’s platforms will be raised so riders don’t have to negotiate the steep, narrow steps onto the trains. Eventually, another passageway will be added to the north to serve high-speed rail lines.

Stephenson, who’s an architect at another firm, said he particularly likes plans for a glass wall facing east toward downtown. “As you approach it from downtown, you’ll get a sense of the openness of the space,” he said. “At night, it’s all lit up and very inviting.”

The new station represents a dramatic improvement from the cramped depot on Cabarrus Street. Serving nearly 200,000 passengers a year, it’s one of the busiest Amtrak stops in the Southeast, but also one of the smallest.

New street connection

From the current station, passengers heading downtown must cross multiple tracks on Cabarrus Street. The Union Station plan calls for a new traffic pattern free of at-grade crossings – starting with the closing of Cabarrus Street at the tracks.

A new extension of West Street will replace the crossing. The sleepy side street currently dead ends on each side of the tracks between Martin and Cabarrus streets.

Connecting those sections will make West Street the primary access road for the new station. But the new railroad crossing, either by bridge or underpass, comes with a big price tag: an estimated $15 million to $20 million.

“Because it’s serving the station, we feel like it’s a worthwhile investment,” said Eric Lamb, Raleigh’s transportation planning manager.

City engineers will seek feedback Wednesday on whether to build a tall bridge over the tracks or run the street under the trains. “The ‘under’ option is a little more structurally intensive with respect to the railroad, but it’s got less visual impact,” Lamb said. “It also likely comes with a higher expense.”

While the change will bring more cars to West, the street won’t turn into a high-speed thoroughfare such as Dawson or McDowell. Lamb said the city will stick with two lanes, taking the opportunity to improve pedestrian, bike and bus facilities.

Raleigh leaders also want West Street eventually to run farther north to Wake Forest Road, creating a quieter alternative to busy, car-centric Capital Boulevard. The goal is a north-south route for walkers, cyclists and buses that ties to greenways and destinations such as Five Points and Glenwood South.

“I think that West Street is a great parallel facility that will take a lot of our developing areas to the new station,” Stephenson said.

The next steps

The designs on view this week are far from final. Clearscapes has until July to finish the first of three planning stages. “The workshop on Wednesday is to present real preliminary concepts about how the design has evolved,” said Craig Newton, an N.C. Department of Transportation engineer overseeing the project.

The current phase will determine the basic layout of the station. Starting this summer, architects will begin work on the details of building features. DOT plans to hold public events and meet with neighbors, businesses and government leaders again as the blueprints take shape. Meanwhile, the city will seek grants to fund the West Street extension.

With construction still years away, Raleigh leaders hope the station plans will continue to spur development in the Warehouse District. Citrix Systems is expected to bring in hundreds of workers later this year. The company cited the planned station plan as a selling point for its move.

Citrix thinks many of its employees will live downtown. If that happens, a growing downtown population could spur more companies and residential developers to consider the area’s underused or vacant buildings.

“Providing excellent amenities and mobility is going to continue to attract a lot of high-quality growth downtown,” Stephenson said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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