Residents of Apex’s Whitehall Manor neighborhood are protesting a bridge that would elevate a new section of the Apex Peakway over South Salem Street and parallel railroad tracks.
“A tunnel would be preferable,” said Brett Gant, a member of the homeowners association for Whitehall Manor, which is near the junction of South Salem Street and an existing section of the Peakway. “The bridge will be about 30 feet tall, and it won’t be too far away from some people’s back decks. As you can imagine, they’re very concerned and frustrated with how this is proceeding.”
Whitehall Manor residents produced a petition of some 130 signatures at Tuesday’s town council meeting asking Apex to reconsider the bridge, which they said will reduce property values and severely compromise the neighborhood’s aesthetics. Homes along Barrow Nook Court and Marston Court, both cul de sacs that back up to the Peakway’s current path, will be most affected. They already back up to the Peakway, which will be elevated and extended over South Salem Street by a large, sloping wall.
The bridge is the town’s solution to a 2005 mandate from CSX, a railroad company that owns the rails running parallel to South Salem Street. Towns building roads across tracks have to seek easements from rail companies, which can set conditions for those easements. Rail companies have become increasingly apt to require that new roads be separated from their tracks, limiting the potential for collisions and other traffic-related stoppages in service.
“In the long run, it also benefits travel because there isn’t the possibility of an at-grade crossing blocking cars,” Apex Mayor Lance Olive said. “It still happens in Apex where the crossing arms go down. When we’re growing at something like five people per day in Apex, we absolutely have a responsibility to improve the flow of traffic.”
Apex had a choice, at least nominally: It could either build a bridge, build an underpass, or close three existing road-level crossings to compensate for each new one. The Peakway crosses CSX tracks three times, and Apex couldn’t afford to close nine crossings elsewhere.
It was decided last year that a bridge would be the most cost-effective way to get the Peakway across the southern tracks. The penultimate section of Peakway and the bridge are on schedule to open sometime in 2019.
But armed with renderings illustrating what the bridge might look like in the backyards of each council member’s home, Gant, his wife Allison, and their neighbors aimed to make the case to council members that the bridge’s imposition on the neighborhood should be given more thought.
“The residents have been involved the entire time, but what’s animated us most recently was a neighborhood-wide meeting with town planners in March,” Gant said. “Some people hadn’t fully appreciated the details of the plans, so a lot of people came out of that meeting very upset. There are some people who have moved in since then and weren’t aware that a bridge was being built.”
Whitehall Manor residents, who have created yard signs and a website (https://nopeakwaybridge.com/) in support of their cause, are asking that the town build an underpass instead of a bridge.
But Russell Dalton, the town’s transportation engineer, all but ruled that out. He said the underpass designs were requested by the town’s planning department in 2015 as part of a feasibility study but that it was never expected those designs would come to fruition. The railroad indicated last summer that it was unlikely to approve an underpass, which would require it to realign its tracks.
Cost was no small factor, either. The southwest connector, including the bridge, was originally supposed to cost $10 million, but that estimate has since risen to $15 million, Dalton said. But even that represents substantial savings against the cost of an underpass – about $26 million.
Olive said he was sympathetic to the residents at Tuesday’s meeting but said he felt that the bridge was the most responsible choice the town could make. The Peakway has been in the works for about 50 years, he said, and the connection’s path was planned before Whitehall Manor was built.
“We certainly feel for their personal situations,” Olive said. “And we understand that it’s less-than-ideal for some people. Ideally, we might not have put homes in that corner 18 or 20 years ago when it was requested to be zoned that way.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan