Raleigh voters will consider $75 million in transportation bonds

10/04/2013 8:22 AM

10/04/2013 8:23 AM

The city will ask permission from Raleigh voters Tuesday to borrow $75 million to widen streets, improve bus stops, add roundabouts, and build miles of sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

“The roads people are using every day are the ones that are going to be improved,” said Sig Hutchinson, chairman of the Friends of the Transportation Bond Committee, which is campaigning for a “yes” vote. “The city has adopted a ‘fix what we have first’ approach, so all these projects are on existing roads.”

If the bond issue passes, Raleigh taxpayers will see their property taxes increase next year by 1.12 cents per $100 valuation, about $33 more a year in taxes for a house valued at $300,000.

Most of the streets marked for improvement handle 8,000 to 20,000 cars and trucks each day. The busiest one is Six Forks Road, which serves 44,000 vehicles. The bonds would include $1.6 million to design improvements for 1.4 miles of Six Forks from Rowan Street in North Hills to Sandy Forks Road.

“The Six Forks corridor is going to be a big component in North Raleigh,” Hutchinson said. “As North Hills continues to expand, we need to make the area more friendly to all types of transportation.”

New Hope Church Road, with 22,000 vehicles a day, would be widened between Green Road and Deana Lane, just west of Capital Boulevard. Like the other eight widening projects to be completed with bond money, this would include the addition of sidewalks, bicycle lanes and street lights.

The plan to widen Buck Jones Road includes roundabouts at two intersections, upgrades for transit stops, and midblock crosswalks with pedestrian refuge islands in the median. A 5.4-mile stretch of Blount and Person streets would be re-striped, mostly to replace three narrow lanes with one bike lane and two wider lanes for cars.

Wake County Democrats support the bond issue, while the Wake County Republican Party has recommended a “no” vote.

“We had a bond referendum for $40 million just two years ago,” said Donna Williams, the Wake GOP chairwoman. “Some of the roads absolutely need fixing, and some of it we just felt could wait until we’re in a better economic situation as a community.”

Williams said she was skeptical about plans to spend bond money for roundabouts, “street furniture” and streetscape improvements like those on Hillsborough Street near N.C. State University.

“And benches and bus stops,” Williams said. “Nice to have – but in our economy today, do we really have to have them?”

Raleigh voters have agreed six times over the past three decades to issue a total of $250 million in transportation bonds. The city now is spending bonds approved in 2011 for projects including the Union Station Amtrak depot, the two-way conversion of South and Lenoir streets, and $22 million for street resurfacing and sidewalks.

If voters reject the bond issue next week, city leaders will look for other ways to pay for the most important street improvements, said Eric Lamb, Raleigh’s transportation planning manager.

“The short answer is, we would have to go back and revisit what our priorities are,” Lamb said.

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