The city council on Monday finalized the list of road projects to be funded by a $75 million transportation bond package this fall, nixing a proposed widening of Western Boulevard in favor of South Raleigh’s Tryon Road.
The Oct. 8 bond referendum – the biggest in Raleigh’s history – would fund 14 multimillion-dollar road projects as well as smaller sidewalk and traffic-calming measures. If the bond passes, Raleigh residents will see a property tax hike of 1.12 cents per $100 valuation next year – about $33 more on the tax bill for a $300,000 house.
The council approved the bond amount last week, aiming to keep it low because an $810 million school bond issue will appear on the same ballot. But they left details of the bond package up in the air until Monday’s meeting.
Councilman Thomas Crowder, who represents Southwest Raleigh, argued that the bond should allocate $4.47 million to widen a two-lane stretch of Tryon Road east of Lake Wheeler Road.
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“The people in this section have been waiting over a decade almost for these improvements,” he said. “I think we’ve heard from some of the folks out in that area that this is a very important project to get completed.”
In the past week, the council has received emails from dozens of residents in the area lobbying for the project. Jennie Hagenberger wrote that heavy traffic on Tryon sometimes doubles the length of her commute. “I (and my fellow residents) really don’t want to have to wait another five years to resolve these traffic bottleneck issues,” she wrote in her email.
To make room for Tryon in the bond package, Crowder agreed to give up two other road projects in his district. One would have widened Western Boulevard to six lanes around N.C. State University, while another would have extended Pullen Road south to State’s Centennial Campus.
City traffic engineers had ranked the Western Boulevard project highly because of its bike and pedestrian safety benefits as well as its heavy traffic. “It’s asked to do a lot in light of the work we’ve done on Hillsborough Street” which has diverted traffic, said Eric Lamb, the city’s transportation planning manager. “It and Wade Avenue are the two main east-west corridors through this part of town.”
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin questioned the wisdom of dropping a project that got top marks for safety and congestion. “We’re just going to ignore (the ranking system),” she said. “I don’t get that.”
Western Boulevard wasn’t the only street that didn’t make the final bond package. The council dropped a proposed rapid-transit bus line along New Bern Avenue in favor of sidewalks and other basic improvements along the busy East Raleigh road. The bond also won’t include a widening for the south end of Old Wake Forest Road or a missing greenway link near Root Elementary School.
With so many projects competing for the bond money, Councilman John Odom suggested increasing the bond amount to $90 million. But Mayor Nancy McFarlane said she wants to stick to a penny tax increase. “It doesn’t do us any good to have a $90 million bond that doesn’t pass,” she said. “I’m just thinking about the psychology of selling the bond.”
The transportation bond already has opposition from some Wake County commissioners and school board members who fear the extra ballot measure could hurt the schools bond, which funds 16 new schools needed to handle the county’s growth.
And while voters will hear pitches for the bond package approved Monday, the road projects aren’t guaranteed funding if the bond passes. Lamb pointed out that the council can redirect the money to other street improvements even after the ballot measure passes.