The downtown train station in Apex could move to a more remote location, leaving its property behind the Apex Chamber of Commerce open for a parking lot or possible business development.
The Apex Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to officially authorize discussions with CSX, the railroad company, about the town buying the land. There are four separate lots that make up the property, totaling 2.4 acres.
Losing the busy train traffic and switching operations would please downtown business owners and residents, who say the problem has become significantly worse in the past two or three years.
Complaints have abounded about soot, noise, traffic delays and even cracks in walls thought to be due to the constant rumblings from the station.
Joe Howard, a Center Street homeowner, has largely led the charge. On Tuesday he said several downtown businesses put out anti-train surveys that garnered more than 500 signatures in two weeks.
“It would help tremendously to get the train station out of downtown,” Howard told the Town Council.
The final price tag to buy the property could come out to about $10 million. Council member Scott Lassiter, who introduced the motion, said simply starting the talks is free.
Lassiter also said there’s a good chance that most of the cost could be funded by the state and federal governments.
The City of Greenville in North Carolina completed a similar project in 2013, with state and federal funds paying for most of the $9.7 million move.
“We could get shot down, we could get federal government support,” Lassiter said. “There’s just no way of knowing right now.”
Despite its current problems, Apex exists because it started as a railroad town, in 1873.
Lassiter said rail is still an important part of the economy – but there’s no reason noisy, round-the-clock work still has to be done downtown.
Lassiter said if the town buys the land, it could build a parking deck or an expansion of Town Hall. Apex also could sell the property to private developers.
“We have talked a lot about creating sites that are ready for commercial development,” he said.
Council member Bill Jensen said grants are key, because $10 million is “a lot of money for the town.” But if the grants are there, he said, the idea seems likely to work.
After the plan first surfaced last month, John Dillard, CSX’s local director of government affairs, said the company would be interested in hearing Apex’s offer. In the Greenville case, CSX paid for a quarter of the project.
The Town Council unanimously voted to spend up to $63,300 to establish “quiet zones” downtown.
The crossings at Hunter, Center and East Chatham streets could soon be quiet zones where trains wouldn’t blow their whistles – as is required by law – as they approach the roads.
The money would be used to build median barriers on the roads, which are required before a quiet zone can be created.
The town might also be forced to close part of one Elm Street intersection to vehicular traffic. Town staff said the closing could affect maybe three homes, and the homeowners haven’t been notified yet.
The road closure, however, wasn’t finalized Tuesday. The vote was only to authorize spending $63,300 and to enter a preliminary agreement with CSX on establishing the quiet zones once the other factors, like barriers, are in place.
Town officials said they expect to have most of the money reimbursed through federal grants, but any grants will likely take at least a year, if they happen at all.
“We don’t want to sit around and see what Congress wants to do,” council member Denise Wilkie said.
Howard thanked the council Tuesday for spending money on quiet zones and starting the discussion to purchase the downtown train station.
“I feel like I’m with family tonight,” he said. “Y’all have been so good to to help us with our problems with the trains.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran