Before the City of Raleigh set out to widen a stretch of Leesville Road to four lanes, it decided to reach out to area residents to see what they thought about it.
They didn’t like it. And the city may change its plans as a result.
At a public meeting in early May and on a webpage the city set up to gather feedback, people made it known that they thought the plan for widening the road north of Leesville Road High School was excessive and would unnecessarily demolish trees and fences and carve up people’s yards.
“This plan is a nightmare for people living on Leesville Road,” one resident wrote on the website, drawing agreement from 20 others.
The website and the public meeting at Lake Lynn Community Center were a departure from the way the city usually approaches road projects like this, said Blair Hinkle, the assistant director of engineering services. The city usually holds four public meetings at various stages, all of them after the city has determined the scope of the project and hired a design firm, Hinkle said.
This time, the city decided to get public feedback earlier, before the designers were on board. Stef Mendell, the City Council member who represents this part of Raleigh, said it makes sense for the city to consult residents before road projects like these get too far along.
“It’s a good way for the city to partner with our residents and really understand what their concerns are,” Mendell said. “I think it’s a win-win to get the communication lines open as early as possible.”
Both the city and the N.C. Department of Transportation have recently raised the ire of Raleigh residents who felt they had learned about planned changes to roads near their homes too late to have any say about it. To get people involved earlier, the NCDOT has held two transportation fairs since last year to provide updates and answer questions about road projects in Wake County. It also organized “listening sessions” for residents concerned about plans to overhaul the Glenwood Avenue interchange on the Beltline and asked engineers to create designs based on what they heard.
‘What they’re proposing is overkill’
The widening of a 0.6-mile stretch of Leesville Road is one of more than a dozen projects the city proposed to complete with $206.7 million from a bond issue approved by voters in fall 2017. The city’s comprehensive plan calls for widening Leesville to four lanes, with a center median, from Lynn Road north to Westgate, and the city decided to start with the northern end where the traffic is heavier.
But residents say the traffic isn’t so heavy that the road needs to be widened to four lanes.
“We only have a traffic issue two times a day — 7 a.m. in the morning when the high school starts and then when they let out from 2:30 to 3:30,” said Steve Collins, president of the Springdale Estates Association, which represents residents on both sides of the road just north of the high school. “Other than that, we really don’t have a problem. And what they’re proposing is overkill.”
Worse than that, says Jim Brennan, the widening would require the city to cut down mature trees and cut into the yards of people who live along Leesville, changing the whole character of the road.
“They are imagining it as an urban setting, and it’s a suburban setting,” said Brennan, who would be among those to lose property.
Both Brennan and Collins say residents also object to the median, which would force people who live on Leesville or on most side streets to make U-turns whenever they want to go left. Instead of a median, they’d rather see the city build a center turn lane that would allow drivers to turn left all along the street without stopping traffic.
“The general feeling among the residents that live here is a center turn lane would alleviate the problems,” Brennan said.
Hinkle said ultimately his department will take its direction from the City Council. On Tuesday, he’ll present several options for this stretch of Leesville Road based on what they’ve heard from the residents, to include scaling back the city’s plans from four lanes to two.
Leesville is a state road, and any changes to the city’s plans will need the NCDOT’s blessing. Spokesman Marty Homan said the department has had some preliminary, conceptual discussions with the city about Leesville Road but that it’s too soon for a decision about what the road should look like in the future.
“We do understand the city’s approach to the project and will work with them to achieve the best possible improvements for the corridor,” Homan wrote in an email.