NCDOT starting over on plans to alleviate traffic around Crabtree Valley Mall
The state Department of Transportation will make another effort to gather public feedback in advance of a planned makeover of the Beltline interchange at Glenwood Avenue, after the earlier attempt caused alarm among residents along Ridge Road.
NCDOT will hold a series of meetings to listen to residents and business owners around the interchange starting in September. The department also has hired three transportation design firms that will have representatives at the meetings and will each develop possible scenarios based both on what they hear and on traffic and crash data.
“We’re going to have as many of these as we need so everybody gets a chance to be heard,” Joey Hopkins, the division engineer in charge of the project, said at a press conference attended by more than 50 residents of the Ridge Road neighborhood. “We want to hear what’s important to you.”
The goal of the $231 million construction project is to improve traffic flow and reduce accidents around Crabtree Valley Mall near the Beltline. Possible changes include reconfiguring the Glenwood Avenue interchange; improving the intersection of Glenwood with Lead Mine and Blue Ridge roads, and extending Crabree Valley Avenue, the street that runs behind the mall, to the east and creating new exit and entrance ramps with the Beltline.
City Council member Steph Mendell, who has lived off Ridge Road for 34 years, tried to reassure residents that the city and the state don’t want the work around Glenwood Avenue to harm the neighborhood.
“It is specifically not designed to put more traffic onto Ridge Road, and Ridge Road will not be widened or have additional lanes added,” Mendell said. “I’m encouraged that with more communication between DOT and area residents, we’ll have a better opportunity to ensure that the final design reflects the best possible outcome for our neighborhood.”
NCDOT began meeting in the spring with community and business groups to get their thoughts on traffic in the area. Hundreds showed up for two meetings of the Glenwood Citizens Advisory Council, where residents along Ridge Road spoke of heavy traffic on the street during rush hours when some drivers seek alternatives to the Beltline.
DOT engineers told the crowds that they didn’t have any designs to show them yet. But some residents reported seeing surveyors, flags and spray-painted marks that suggested the state knew what it wanted to do and was moving ahead. (Hopkins said the surveyors are gathering information that will eventually be used by designers.)
“It’s bad optics,” Robert Rice, the new chairman of the Glenwood CAC, said before Thursday’s announcement. “It’s just creating more consternation.”
Soon, signs that read “Save Ridge Road” lined the streets in the neighborhood, and residents moved to form an independent nonprofit committee that could lobby NCDOT, the City Council and the General Assembly if necessary.
And late last month, about 130 people at a Glenwood CAC meeting voted unanimously for a resolution asking NCDOT to delay the Crabtree Valley project until after the state has widened a stretch of the Beltline between Wade Avenue and Interstate 40, which may not be done until 2021. Residents reasoned that the widening of the Beltline could change the traffic patterns that would have some bearing on what should be done around the mall.
NCDOT has said it hopes to begin construction on the Glenwood Avenue project next year, but Hopkins would not rule out a delay.
“It’s all on the table,” he said. “But we’re not ready to commit to a schedule change either.”
Hopkins meant to announce the planned meetings Thursday to a small group of reporters at Highland United Methodist Church on Ridge Road. But word about the event quickly spread among residents, some of whom showed up expecting to learn about a specific plan for the project. Hopkins said the time and date for the public meetings would be announced later this month.
Hopkins acknowledged that the concern among residents along Ridge Road was forcing NCDOT to take more care in gathering public opinion on the Glenwood project. He said it might become a model for future projects where public interest is high.
Rice, the chairman of the Glenwood CAC, said he was pleased that NCDOT had heard the community’s concerns.
“I’m happy that they’re willing to engage,” he said “But I think there’s still a sense of wait and see.”