Members of the N.C. State University Club told N.C. Department of Transportation officials Tuesday night that plans to widen the Beltline in West Raleigh threaten the existence of their institution, which was founded as a club for faculty in the early 1960s.
Proposals to reconfigure the Interstate 440 interchanges at Wade Avenue and Hillsborough Street would take 19 acres from the club, including all of its tennis courts, most of its parking lot, part of its par-3 golf course and a new tennis shop and snack bar next to the pool.
“The pool will be less than a Frisbee throw from the traffic,” said Jim Crisp, a history professor. Crisp said the loss of those facilities would be “crippling if not fatal.”
Crisp was one of more than two dozen club members who spoke Tuesday night at a hearing on the project, which has also drawn concern from people at Meredith College and some West Raleigh residents. They talked about the countless kids who have learned to swim at the club, its use for wedding receptions and other events and the community that has grown up around it over the years.
No one who spoke disputed the need to widen I-440 from four to six lanes between Wade Avenue in Raleigh and Walnut Street in Cary. This 4-mile stretch dates back to 1960, when there was far less traffic and highway design standards tolerated shorter entrance and exit ramps and the crisscrossing of entering and exiting traffic.
As many as 94,000 vehicles a day now squeeze through this narrow section, often having to slow down suddenly, particularly around the Western Boulevard interchange. The result is an accident rate that is three times the statewide average for urban interstates, says Joey Hopkins, the division engineer in charge of the project.
Hopkins said before the hearing that he thinks DOT engineers can rework the plans to reduce, though not eliminate, the impacts on the University Club and other property owners along the Beltline, including Meredith College.
“What we try to do at this stage is show what’s the worst impacts that can be,” he said.
In the front door
The two-hour hearing drew more than 300 people to the McKimmon Center at N.C. State University. Earlier in the afternoon, DOT invited people to study the plans and ask questions in an adjoining room, and hundreds filtered through, looking at maps hung on walls and spread over tables to see how the project would affect their home or neighborhood.
“That would come right in the front door there,” said Faye Childers, pointing to where the DOT’s right-of-way would cross a rental house she and her husband own on the corner of Jones Franklin Road and Barringer Drive. Childers, 82, said that her mother and father built the house in 1957, and that she and her husband, Joe, built the one where they live next door on Barringer in 1977.
Joe Childers, 83, joked about whether he should plant grass or leave it for DOT to worry about. “You can’t do anything about it,” he said of the prospect of losing property for the project.
But others were less sanguine. After he found his home on one of the maps, Phil King learned that there were no plans to build a noise wall between it and the expanded highway. A DOT representative told him that because his house at the end of Ravenwood Drive was one of only two along that stretch of road, it wasn’t considered cost-effective to build a wall.
“If you’re not going to build a wall, then you’re going to buy the house,” said King, 68. “Because we’ve got noise like crazy now.”
The questions and worries differed from map to map. How many houses will be lost on Aukland Street? How long will the Melbourne Road and Athens Drive bridges over the Beltline have to be closed? Does that exit ramp from the Beltline to Hillsborough have to take up so much land?
Not everyone was unhappy with what they saw. Deborah Williams was pleased to see that none of the plans would encroach on Oak Grove Cemetery, which was established by freed slaves in the Method community and is where her grandparents and great-grandparents are buried.
“That’s been up there since the Civil War days,” said Williams, 62.
The most complicated parts of the project are the new interchanges at Wade Avenue and Hillsborough Street. DOT presented three options Tuesday, all of which would take 19 acres from the University Club and at least 13.5 acres from Meredith College across the highway.
Meredith president Jo Allen said not only would DOT take land the college plans to use for expansion, but it would put highway bridges, berms and light poles all along the western edge of the campus.
“This project will … forever change the character of our campus,” Allen said.
To me, it seems like we should be making more University Clubs, not paving them over.
Edwin Gregory, who leads golf camps for kids at the club.
But it was the University Club members whose voices were heard most often Tuesday, imploring DOT officials to come up with alternatives that take up less space. Beth Weaver, 62, told Hopkins that she’d been a club member since she was 10 and had her wedding reception and raised her kids there.
“We know you’re trying to do your job,” Weaver said. “For us it’s personal. And it’s emotional.”
It’s not clear whether or how the state would compensate the club, which is now open to alumni as well as faculty and staff. The state already owns the land on which the club sits; the property is leased by the university’s foundation, which in turn leases it to the club.
DOT will accept written comments on the Beltline project until Aug. 22 at publicinput.com/1851/. Information about the project, including maps showing various configurations for the road and interchanges, can be found at www.ncdot.gov/projects/i-440improvements/.
DOT doesn’t expect to award a contract for the final designs and construction until next summer. Even then, Hopkins said, motorists may not notice the work getting under way until early 2019.