In West Raleigh and eastern Cary, government planners are laying the groundwork for the development and traffic that may accompany a string of proposed passenger rail stations.
A coalition of local governments and others has put half a million dollars toward a study of the roads between the two municipalities, aiming to improve safety and traffic flow at a half-dozen places where rail lines cross pavement.
The study, kicking off with public meetings on Monday and Tuesday, will ask whether the intersections should be closed, bridged or otherwise made safer. Planners will share information and listen to the public at WakeMed Soccer Park on Monday and Method Community Center gymnasium on Tuesday, both from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
“All of these efforts are in the view that we’re going to have more rail service of various kinds – and, at the same time, there’s going to be more urbanization of this area, especially around the light-rail stations,” Raleigh Councilman Russ Stephenson said.
He was referring to long-debated plans to put new light-rail lines and more commuter trains in the Raleigh-Cary corridor. The Wake County Board of Commissioners has long delayed action on the proposed railway construction, which could result in increased taxes, though a new Democratic majority is expected to move more quickly on the proposal.
“As we look toward heavier rail usage, there’s obviously going to be more delay for traffic trying to get back and forth, and less safety,” Stephenson said.
The study includes Northeast Maynard Road, Trinity Road, Nowell Road, Powell Drive, Beryl Road and Royal Street, along with several proposed new crossings.
Of course, governments and railroads have long aimed to close such “at-grade” crossings, where cars drive directly across rail lines. In the last 20 years, the six intersections under study have seen two fatal collisions, and four collisions in total, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration.
The effort to improve the Raleigh-Cary crossings will start with a broad look at several factors, according to Shelby Powell, a senior transportation planner at the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or CAMPO. Besides existing traffic patterns, the study will account for the area’s potential for development.
“It’s kind of an open slate out there,” she said.
This is the most comprehensive rail study that CAMPO has ever taken on, she said.
Freight trains and Amtrak passenger trains run through the Raleigh-Cary corridor about 20 times per day. The set of two rail lines runs between Chapel Hill Road and Hillsborough Road; if built, light-rail lines would run through the same right-of-way.
The $520,000 study is funded by CAMPO, the state transportation department, Raleigh, the N.C. Railroad, Norfolk-Southern, Cary and Triangle Transit. It will conclude next June.
While the study may outline possibilities for safety improvements – such as new signs, barriers, bridges or closures – it won’t recommend any one course of action. It also won’t address Blue Ridge Road, where an existing plan would bridge the railroad over the road.
The eventual fixes for the intersections could be expensive. It can cost millions of dollars to separate a railway from a road, and rail companies typically pay about 5 percent of that cost.
But the investment, according to be Stephenson, could be one step toward redevelopment along the railway.
“There hadn’t been much development along any of our traditional rail corridors, because they’ve been seen as industrial corridors,” he said.
Now, he said, “they’re being seen as much more valuable real estate.”