RALEIGH — In an effort to widen and improve some of the city’s busiest streets, the Raleigh City Council will vote Tuesday on a proposal to place a $75 million transportation bond on the ballot in October.
Proponents say it’s urgently needed to address Raleigh’s growth and traffic, but county leaders don’t want the measure to compete with this fall’s school construction bond.
The proposed bond referendum – the biggest in Raleigh’s history – would fund about 15 multimillion-dollar road projects as well as smaller sidewalk and traffic calming measures. If the bond passes, Raleigh residents can expect a property tax increase of about one cent per $100 valuation next year.
It would join an $810 million bond issue proposed by the Wake County school board on the same ballot. The school board has identified 16 new schools needed to handle the county’s growth, and many of its older schools need major renovations.
Raleigh’s move has prompted some leaders to question whether voters will support two bond items in the same election cycle, but city leaders say their transportation funding can’t wait.
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said the city has an increasingly long to-do list to ensure its roads can handle the influx of new residents. Its last bond was in 2011.
“We’re already far behind, and that really is the motivation,” she said.
But Wake County Commissioners’ Chairman Joe Bryan said Monday that he and school board Chairman Keith Sutton want the city to postpone its referendum. Bryan says the delay is needed to ensure that the school bond passes.
“We hope that the mayor and the city council would see the value in placing the higher priority on education,” he said. “People may look at voting for one or the other, and we really need them to support the school bond.”
But school board member Christine Kushner said she doesn’t see a city bond harming the schools’ referendum. “I think they’re really complementary – not competing – interests,” she said.
Baldwin said she thinks the city should float a smaller $50 million bond “to be mindful of” the school bond. But she appears to be in the minority on the council.
“I think the council is leaning more toward the $75 million, from what we’ve heard,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said Monday.
If the council approves the ballot measure Tuesday, the next step is deciding which projects would get funding. Transportation Planning Manager Eric Lamb, who’s developing possible bond packages, said the projects should be spread evenly throughout the city to sell voters on the bond.
“Having a strong geographic distribution is important in terms of securing public support,” he said.
Most of the projects under consideration are major roads that need an extra lane or two to relieve traffic congestion. In the process, they’ll get new bike lanes, sidewalks and streetlights.
The bond also would likely include two streetscape projects. One would add bike lanes and wider sidewalks on Blount and Person streets around downtown and another would extend the recent Hillsborough Street overhaul beyond the NC State campus, several blocks west to Rosemary Street.
And the council is considering adding one transit project to the package. A $4 million rapid-transit proposal would run more buses along New Bern Avenue, build higher quality bus shelters and provide faster service.
The council would have to make trade-offs to keep the package within $75 million. Among the projects that might get cut from the list: widenings on sections of Poole Road, Tryon Road, Western Boulevard and the south end of Old Wake Forest Road.
“What I want to do is make sure we’re looking at the top 10 priorities,” Baldwin said. “I think what we have to do is what’s necessary and not what we want.”
Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter