NCDOT plans to improve Crabtree Valley Mall traffic. That makes neighbors anxious.

NCDOT starting over on plans to alleviate traffic around Crabtree Valley Mall

The N.C. Department of Transportation is starting from scratch as it looks at options to help ease congestion on the roads around Crabtree Valley Mall near the Raleigh Beltline.
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The N.C. Department of Transportation is starting from scratch as it looks at options to help ease congestion on the roads around Crabtree Valley Mall near the Raleigh Beltline.

The N.C. Department of Transportation is meeting with small groups of residents and business people as it begins planning changes to the roads around Crabtree Valley Mall near the Raleigh Beltline.

One of those groups became a crowd, as hundreds of anxious residents along Ridge Road turned out for two community meetings in recent weeks. They're worried that NCDOT's project, including a possible new interchange connecting Crabtree Valley Avenue to the Beltline, will result in more drivers using Ridge Road.

“What we want is a safe environment to raise our families and to worship and to go to school," Ardis Watkins, a lobbyist for the State Employees Association of North Carolina who has lived off Ridge for about 40 years, said at a community meeting at Highland United Methodist Church on Monday.

NCDOT officials and the consulting firm they have hired to do the early planning say they want to hear people's concerns before developing specific options that they'll present to the public in the fall. They say they hope to award a contract for final designs and construction in the spring of 2019.

The project aims to alleviate traffic on Glenwood Avenue near the mall, one of the city's most congested stretches of road. Possible changes could include:

Reconfiguring the Glenwood Avenue interchange at the Beltline.

Improving the intersection of Glenwood with Lead Mine and Blue Ridge roads.

Extending Crabtree Avenue, the street that runs behind the mall, to the east and creating new exit and entrance ramps with the Beltline to give people an alternative way in and out of the mall. Crabtree Avenue would meet the Beltline at the point where Ridge Road does now.

“What this connection looks like we don’t know yet," Beth Smyre of the consulting firm Dewberry told the crowd at Highland United Methodist.

Ridge Road residents worry that connection will mean more traffic in their neighborhood.

“It seems like you’re trying to solve Crabtree Valley traffic problems on the back of Ridge Road,” said Purush Iyer, a computer scientist at N.C. State University who lives on Ridge Road. The crowd applauded.

Others noted that the traffic on Ridge is already bad when cars back up on the Beltline where the highway narrows at Wade Avenue and drivers seek what they think is a shortcut. NCDOT hopes to begin a three-year project to widen the Beltline from Wade to Interstate 40 starting late this year, and some Ridge Road residents wondered why NCDOT wouldn't finish that work first.

“I don’t know how anybody could do a proper traffic study until that project is in full bloom," said Tom Ford, who lives on Ridge Road. "I don’t know what the big hurry is.”

Joey Hopkins, NCDOT's division engineer, acknowledged that Crabtree Valley work will begin as many as three years sooner than the state had originally planned. Hopkins says NCDOT has money for these projects sitting in the bank, and legislators are putting pressure on the agency to get them done.

“There will be some overlap of the two projects,” he said.

Underlying the concerns of many Ridge Road residents is the feeling that NCDOT knows what it wants to do at Glenwood Avenue and is making a show of asking residents for their opinions. Judy Coggins, who owns 18.5 acres between Ridge Road and the Beltline where the two roads meet, noted that someone was putting stakes on her property.

"If there’s no plan, then why am I being staked?” Coggins asked.

Coggins said some of the stakes seem to correspond to an interchange scheme that resulted from a city traffic study in 2011 called the Vision for the Valley. Among the features of that plan was an exit ramp from eastbound I-440 that that cut through Coggins' property and led to Ridge Road and both Glenwood and Crabtree Valley avenues.

The Vision for the Valley study prompted the city to ask NCDOT what it could do to improve traffic around Crabtree. And while the city plan is a point of reference, Smyre told the crowd that NCDOT is not committed to anything.

“Understand, we are starting over," she said.

As for the stakes, Hopkins said surveyors are marking everything around the interchanges, so planners know what's there and can better estimate the potential impacts.

“It’s all in an effort to collect data," he said. "That’s all that is.”

The all-purpose room at Highland where Monday's meeting took place had seats for about 300, and some people still had to stand along the walls. The Glenwood Citizens Advisory Council organized the meeting after about 250 showed up for an earlier one in March and many had to be turned away.

"We grossly underestimated the interest," said Greg Kuruc, the council's chairman.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling