Widening the Beltline and reconfiguring the interchanges at Hillsborough Street and Wade Avenue could require taking more than 30 acres of land from Meredith College and the N.C. State University Club, which has prompted some to ask: Why not eliminate one of the interchanges, namely the one at Hillsborough Street?
Hundreds of people have made that suggestion to the N.C. Department of Transportation as it seeks public comment on its plans to redo a 4-mile stretch of Interstate 440 in West Raleigh. Eliminating the interchange at Hillsborough Street, they say, would allow NCDOT to build a better, safer interchange at nearby Wade Avenue without taking up so much land.
Many who proffer the idea note that Hillsborough Street is no longer a main route into downtown Raleigh. The city is working to remake it into a street that’s more complementary to N.C. State University and nearby neighborhoods, with bike lanes, better pedestrian crossings, a median and roundabouts to both slow traffic and keep it moving.
“Another vote for eliminating the Hillsborough St exit entirely,” wrote one commenter on the NCDOT’s website, publicinput.com/1851, that polls people about different segments of the project and allows them to share their thoughts in writing. “You’ve already destroyed its use as a through street into town with the one lane traffic and circles everywhere. If it doesn’t want to be used as a major road, don’t bother dumping 440 onto it.”
There has been limited opposition to the NCDOT’s main goal of widening I-440 from four to six lanes between Wade Avenue in Raleigh and Walnut Street in Cary and reconfiguring key interchanges along the way. This stretch of the Beltline dates back to 1960, with outdated designs that include shorter entrance and exit ramps and the crisscrossing of entering and exiting traffic.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.
But the plans presented to the public last month have been widely criticized, particularly for their impact on Meredith and the University Club. More than 2,100 comments have been made on the Beltline widening project so far. The deadline for comments to be reflected in the NCDOT’s environmental assessment report is end of day Friday, Sept. 8, but the department will continue to accept feedback after that.
I’d rather have the Hillsborough Street ramps closed that have the impact to the University Club and Meredith. There has to be a way to handle Fair and game-day traffic without a Hillsborough Street exit; or somehow exit from Western onto Beryl. I’m not an engineer, but this design at Hillsborough is the sticking point. PLEASE come up with another option, even if it means no Hillsborough Street access.
Someone writing on N.C. Department of Transportation’s website seeking comment on plans to widen and reconfigure the Beltline in West Raleigh. The names of the commenters are not made public.
NCDOT considered closing the Hillsborough Street interchange early in the planning for the Beltline project, but ruled it out, says Joey Hopkins, the division engineer. Hopkins said closing the interchange would simply make traffic worse on nearby streets, including Blue Ridge Road, Wade Avenue and Faircloth Street. He also said NCDOT polled institutions in the area, including N.C. State University, Meredith College and the city of Raleigh, and found that none of them wanted it closed.
“They felt it was an important access to remain open,” Hopkins said.
Meredith president Jo Allen says Hillsborough Street is the college’s front door and that keeping the interchange open serves both the college and the wider community. But she doesn’t see that closing the interchange is necessary for NCDOT to avoid taking significant amounts of land from the campus.
“Our consultants have demonstrated to us that there are ways to minimize the impact of the project on Meredith and still keep the Hillsborough Street interchange open,” Allen said.
Eric Lamb, the city’s transportation planning manager, was involved in those early discussions with NCDOT about eliminating the Hillsborough Street interchange, and he’s glad the state decided against it. He says events at the State Fairgrounds, Carter-Finley Stadium and PNC Arena, coupled with the increase in traffic expected from the expansion of the NCSU vet school campus, would have a ripple effect in West Raleigh, putting more traffic on other streets.
“Part of what makes the grid work is having multiple connections,” Lamb said.
Lamb notes that the plans NCDOT has put forward are the worst-case scenarios, showing the most land-hogging options. He says if NCDOT engineers don’t scale it back, the contractors it hires to design and build the project will.
“Once they get the design-build team on board, there will be lots of opportunities to compress the footprint,” he said.