Cary News

Cary seeking $22.5 million grant for downtown road project

A proposed downtown Cary road project would improve access and mobility in the coming years as more development comes to the area – if the town can find more than $33 million needed to pay for it.

The Walker Street Road extension would extend Walker Street about 1,200 feet north from Cedar Street to Chapel Hill Road. The road would pass under the railroad tracks via a tunnel, and a roundabout would connect Walker Street to Wilkinson Avenue and East Durham Road.

Town council members discussed the project Thursday, April 28, and instructed town staff to apply for $22.5 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) federal grant funds.

“Basically, this project is almost cost prohibitive unless we get federal assistance,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.

The TIGER grant, which was created in 2009 by the federal government, is an extremely competitive grant that Cary has applied for five times to receive funding for the Walker Street extension, said Lori Cove, the town’s director of transportation and facilities.

The town has been looking for funding for the Walker Street extension for many years. Project design began in 2007.

“It is a very challenging project, particularly with all the issues associated with a grade separation and the multiple railroad companies and owners in that corridor,” Cove said.

The town already has accumulated $5.4 million in funding from other grants.

Trains passing through

Town staff and the council are interested in seeing the project completed because of an anticipated increase in freight and commuter trains running through downtown Cary in the future.

Trains now pass through downtown Cary once every 1.2 to 1.5 hours.

Norfolk Southern and CSX anticipate an additional 10 to 12 freight trains per day over the next decade. Passenger trains, many of which would stop at the existing Amtrak Cary Depot, including those planned as part of Wake County’s transit plan, are expected to generate an additional eight trips per day.

By 2040, town staff expect up to 20 freight, 18 Amtrak and 30 commuter rail trips to be made throughout downtown daily. This equates to a train passing through downtown every five to seven minutes.

Even today, some of the passenger trains stopped at the Amtrak Cary Depot can block North Academy Street and North Harrison Avenue, making it difficult for drivers to cross Chatham Street to Chapel Hill Road.

The Walker Street extension would allow vehicles to travel under the tracks, even if a train is stopped or passing through downtown. It also would give drivers more options when traveling.

“The more options you give people, the better,” Cove said.

If the town receives the TIGER grant funding, the project would have to be ready to begin construction by September 2019 and likely would take several years to complete. The grant also requires a minimum local match of 20 percent, which is about $5.6 million.

Road widening

The town council also voted to move forward with a project in western Cary that would widen the roadway from the N.C. 540 interchange to N.C. 55 to a four-lane, median-divided road with curb and gutter, sidewalks, street lighting and wide outside lanes for cyclists.

Green Level West Road now carries about 7,000 cars per day, but town staff anticipate the eastern portion of the road to carry as many as 21,000 vehicles per day by 2040.

“(Green Level West Road) is a really critical link, particularly to the turnpike,” Cove said, adding that the road also turns into High House Road to the east, which connects to downtown.

The road widening would provide additional roadway capacity, resulting in less traffic congestion. It also will improve bike and pedestrian access via sidewalks and bike lanes.

Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2017 and take about one year. The project will cost about $14 million, including design, right-of-way acquisition and construction, and will be funded by the 2012 Community Investment Bonds.

Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon