People will have more time to make their feelings known about the state’s plans to widen the Beltline in West Raleigh.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has extended the deadline for registering your opinion on the project from Aug. 22 to Sept. 8. The extra 2 1/2 weeks will make it easier for people who may be on vacation to participate, said DOT spokesman Steve Abbott.
“We want as much public feedback as possible,” Abbott said.
The DOT has already received more than 2,000 comments from people, most of them concerned that the state will take too much property to accommodate the wider highway and reconfigured interchanges.
The project would widen Interstate 440 from four to six lanes between Wade Avenue in Raleigh and Walnut Street in Cary. This 4-mile stretch of the Beltline dates back to 1960, with outdated designs that include shorter entrance and exit ramps and the crisscrossing of entering and exiting traffic. There’s an average of about one crash a day here, for an accident rate that is three times higher than the statewide average for urban interstates, according to the DOT.
The DOT held a public hearing Aug. 8 and collected written comments then. But the majority of comments have come through a new website, publicinput.com/1851, that polls people about different segments of the project and allows them to share their thoughts in writing.
The largest number of comments – 648 as of Wednesday morning – concerned the DOT’s plans to reconfigure the interchanges at Hillsborough Street and Wade Avenue. All three options for new on and off ramps would take 19 acres from the N.C. State University Club, including its parking lot and tennis courts, and at least 13.5 acres from Meredith College across the highway.
Of the 1,700 votes cast for the three options, about 90 percent chose “I don’t like it,” and most of the comments referred to the damage that would be done to Meredith and the University Club.
“There has to be a better way,” someone wrote, echoing a common refrain (the comments appear anonymously on the website).
The sentiments about other segments of the project were more divided. A majority of people with a preference liked the DOT’s new design for the Western Boulevard interchange, but many of the commenters said it was too complicated or didn’t provide enough access for pedestrians and bicycles.
Once the comment period ends Sept. 8, the DOT will take six to eight weeks to go through them before holding another meeting, where officials will discuss how to respond to the feedback.
Meredith College students don’t return to campus until this weekend, but word about the threat to campus has spread among them and alumni around the country via Facebook, says Kately Clark, a sophomore from Summerfield who spoke at the public hearing. Clark, who plans to major in social work, said she and her mother, a Meredith alumna, are among the hundreds from the college who have urged the DOT to change its plans.
“I have faith that the state of North Carolina and the North Carolina Department of Transportation will go back to the drawing board and find a more creative solution,” she said in an interview.
Ginger Alexander Neustadt of Raleigh, a Meredith graduate and member of the board of trustees, thinks the overwhelming opposition to taking property from the college and lining its western boundary with lights, bridges and traffic will force the DOT to make changes.
“Its almost unbelievable to me that they would take this land,” Neustadt said. “We’re asking them to go back to the drawing board and please change this.”