Midtown Raleigh News

Wake Forest aims for green, walkable future

A generator upgrade doesn’t have the splash of a new fountain or the enticing curves of a greenway trail, but sometimes a town’s got to put its needs ahead of its desires.

Wake Forest’s Capital Improvement Plan approved by the board of commissioners last week is balanced between prioritized needs and the juicy long-term projects that reflect officials’ vision for the town.

“The idea is to get these things done as soon as we can, but to be frugal while we do them,” Mayor Vivian Jones said.

The Capital Improvement Plan is a rolling five-year wish list of design and construction projects and big-ticket purchases, updated annually. The list functions as a set of guidelines as funds leftover from the regular budget become available. None of the projects has a set schedule.

Topping the list this year are priorities such as $24,000 for surveillance cameras at Joyner Park and $525,000 to replace the wooden electrical substation at the John B. Cole Switchyard with a modern steel structure.

“It’s nice to build a swimming pool, but you’ve got to fix the foundation of the house first,” Commissioner Frank Drake said.

The rest are not seen as frivolous projects, but they’re less urgent.

Of the proposed $10.6 million in capital improvements, $5.6 million would go to projects that have an alternative transportation focus – $3.03 million for greenway trail design and construction to add to the current fragmented system, and just under $2.6 million on priority pedestrian corridors. That’s at the request of residents who say they want a less car-dependent community with more ways to walk and bike, Jones said.

“Anytime we have a public meeting asking for input from citizens, it’s the thing that comes up the most,” she said. “As we go forward, this is the thing the younger generation is really looking for.”

Vital town functions such as trash collection and road repairs come first in the town budget; things such as sidewalk connectivity and a new chunk added to the greenway system are accomplished with any funds left after the city pays its bills for the year.

There is less overflow now than in the past. Several years ago, Jones said, the town often had $10 million to $15 million to work with. The surplus was down to about $3 million last year, she said. There’s no way to know what the town will have money for next year until next year’s budget is approved in June.

“We are not doing more than we can afford,” Jones said.