The city council has endorsed the building of a bridge over the Beltline in West Raleigh to connect the community of Method and the main campus of N.C. State University with businesses and NCSU buildings off Blue Ridge Road.
The bridge would be built as part of the widening and reconstruction of a 4-mile stretch of Interstate 440 between Wade Avenue in Raleigh and Walnut Street in Cary. The new bridge would carry Ligon Street over the Beltline and replace a single-lane tunnel that was built under the highway when it opened in the early 1960s to connect Method on the east side with the Oak Grove Cemetery on the west.
The bridge, with two lanes of traffic and sidewalks, would help fulfill a city goal of improving movement between Blue Ridge and Method roads. The tunnel is too small for city or university buses, and isn’t safe for pedestrians or cyclists.
“Obviously what’s there now isn’t working,” said council member Kay Crowder, whose district includes Method.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has proposed two options for the bridge: a straight one with a long approach ramp that would take property from an NCSU research lab and a curved one with a shorter ramp that would require taking 6 to 10 town homes. The council members on Tuesday endorsed the curved bridge, because, as Crowder noted, it would have less impact on Method as a whole.
Eric Lamb, the city’s transportation planning manager, gave the council an overview of the Beltline project. The four-lane highway was the first leg of the Beltline to open and will be the last one to be modernized, he said. Not only does it create a bottleneck, but the narrow shoulders and outdated interchanges make it less safe.
The project has drawn criticism because the plans presented by NCDOT last month would require taking more than 30 acres of land from Meredith College and the N.C. State University Club. Lamb noted that those were the worst-case scenarios and that he expects the final designs to require less land.
NCDOT asked the council for its feedback on the proposed Ligon Street bridge and on how to replace the bridges that carry Athens Drive and Melbourne Road over the Beltline. In those two cases, the council endorsed tearing the bridges down and building new ones in place, rather than constructing new ones adjacent to the old. In both cases, it would mean closing the crossings for as long as 12 months, but would also mean less impact on adjacent property and homes.
The council urged NCDOT to stagger the Athens Drive and Melbourne Road projects, so that the bridges would not be closed at the same time. Lamb said NCDOT had indicated it can do that.
NCDOT will gather feedback about the Beltline project from the public at publicinput.com/1851 through Friday, Sept. 8. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said Tuesday that the department has agreed to hold another public meeting on the project sometime in October after it has had time to digest what it has heard and read from the public.