Midtown Raleigh News

$75 million bond issue tackles Raleigh’s traffic growth

With heavy traffic rattling down its narrow, potholed lanes daily, some folks consider Sandy Forks Road to be the worst street in Raleigh.

The two-lane North Raleigh street has scarcely seen any improvements since the area was open countryside. Now it traverses subdivisions and office parks, and getting the road up to today’s standards will cost $9 million.

“As a major connector between Six Forks and Falls of the Neuse, Sandy Forks Road has too many cars, moving too quickly on a poorly designed and crumbling structure,” said Councilman Randy Stagner, who’s been advocating for a Sandy Forks fix. “It is a hazard to motorists and pedestrians alike. ... This road is so bad that it will need to be completely redesigned and dug up.”

Without $9 million to spare in its annual budget, the Raleigh City Council will likely include Sandy Forks funding in a $75 million transportation bond on the ballot in October. If the bond passes, Sandy Forks will be transformed into a four-lane road with sidewalks and bike lanes by 2016.

The proposed bond referendum – the biggest in Raleigh’s history – would also fund about 15 multimillion-dollar road projects as well as smaller sidewalk and traffic calming measures. If the bond passes, Raleigh residents can expect a property tax increase of 1.12 cents per $100 valuation next year.

It would join an $810 million bond issue proposed by the Wake County school board on the same ballot. Some school board members and county commissioners worry another bond could harm its chance of passing, but city council members disagree. They say the transportation funding can’t wait.

“I think at $75 million, we’ll be complementing the education bond, and I think we have a good chance of getting both of them passed,” Councilman Eugene Weeks said.

But Wake County Commissioners Chairman Joe Bryan said that he and school board Chairman Keith Sutton want the city to postpone its referendum. Bryan says the delay is needed to ensure that the school bond passes.

“We hope that the mayor and the city council would see the value in placing the higher priority on education,” he said. “People may look at voting for one or the other, and we really need them to support the school bond.”

The Raleigh council decided to keep the bond at $75 million in part for that reason. Councilmen Bonner Gaylord and Thomas Crowder voted against the bond referendum because they wanted to consider a larger bond amount, funding more projects.

Gaylord pointed out that $75 million will only partially fund many projects, with more construction money needed in future bonds. “I still feel like we should fully fund projects,” he said.

The next step is deciding which projects would get funding; that debate starts in a special council meeting at 3 p.m. Monday. Transportation Planning Manager Eric Lamb, who’s developing possible bond packages, said the projects should be spread evenly throughout the city to sell voters on the bond.

“Having a strong geographic distribution is important in terms of securing public support,” he said.

Monday’s meeting will likely include more debate on whether to include a single transit project in the bond package. Some want to allocate $4 million for a rapid-transit bus line on New Bern Avenue. That would provide more frequent buses making fewer stops at nicer bus shelters.

“I think it’s important to have a first bite-size transit project ... to give people a vision of what we can accomplish without continually widening roads,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said.

But Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin pointed to the lack of sidewalks along New Bern and wondered whether the area is ready for rapid transit. “Could we put $4 million toward transit-related improvements that would improve that corridor and make taking the bus a better experience?” she asked.

The council will have to make trade-offs to keep the package within $75 million. Among the projects that might get cut from the list: widening on sections of Poole Road, Tryon Road, Western Boulevard and the south end of Old Wake Forest Road.

“What I want to do is make sure we’re looking at the top 10 priorities,” Baldwin said. “I think what we have to do is what’s necessary and not what we want.”