N.C. State University’s two campuses will be closer soon.
The city next year will extend Pullen Road toward Centennial Parkway, easing the route between the university’s main campus and its Centennial Campus and promising easier access for a large part of West Raleigh.
The $3 million project may not look like much on a map, measuring about a third of a mile, but it should circumvent nearly a mile of driving on busy streets for intercampus travelers. Pullen Road will extend to meet Bilyeu Street, and Bilyeu Street will connect with Centennial Parkway, likely by 2017.
The extended roads will serve as an entrance to the Roman Catholic Church’s new cathedral, and it will replace the current Western Boulevard access to the Kirby-Bilyeu neighborhood.
It’s a project that has floated around in the city’s collective consciousness for decades, even predating one of the campuses that it will serve.
“This project has been on the books since the 1960s, in different forms,” said Eric Lamb, transportation office manager for the city of Raleigh. The city once planned to combine Oberlin and Pullen roads into a straight-shot access from Wade Avenue south to Interstate 40.
Matthew Frazier is particularly well-suited to comment on the intercampus congestion that has taken hold since then.
A senior in computer science at N.C. State, he has spent countless hours riding the university’s Wolfline bus from one campus to the other – and still more hours indulging his transit-planning hobby, especially at the troublesome intersection of Avent Ferry Road and Western Boulevard.
“If a bus catches that signal wrong, it can easily be stuck at that intersection for three or four minutes, both ways,” he said. “That intersection is the biggest problem in the entire Wolfline system.”
An unexpected new force finally pushed this idea from the planning books to the budget: The Catholic Church.
Fifty years after the first Pullen extension plans were drafted, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh decided to build Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral just south of Western Boulevard and Pullen Road.
As the church prepared to build, the city offered up a joint venture.
The entrance will serve thousands of people attending Mass each week, and the church’s payment of about $750,000 toward construction will replace development fees of about the same amount.
The university, meanwhile, will finally get a better connection to its 1,120-acre technology campus. Like the church, the school also has agreed to contribute 25 percent of construction costs, or about $750,000.
The city will pick up half the tab, about $1.5 million, in a deal approved by the Raleigh City Council this week. Construction could get started next year and conclude in 2017, Lamb said.
Connie Crumpler, co-chairwoman of the Southwest Citizens Advisory Council, hopes that the new connection will bring new attention to Centennial Parkway, the often empty stretch of road that separates Centennial Campus from the Dorothea Dix campus, which the city is in the process of buying from the state and is unrelated to N.C. State’s campuses.
“That’s a road that’s underused,” Crumpler said. “Maybe it will be good to spur some traffic over there.”
The church, state and university own all of the land surrounding the planned road extension and Centennial Parkway, meaning the new construction is unlikely to attract new development. The church, however, may later add additional buildings, potentially including a school.
A new neighborhood entrance
The project will bring significant changes to the Kirby-Bilyeu neighborhood.
Residents now reach their neighborhood from Western Boulevard and its intersection with Bilyeu Street, which climbs a steep hill to reach the houses on the ridge. Instead, that intersection will be closed, and residents will use the Pullen Road extension, which will meet Bilyeu Street in a traffic circle at the back of the neighborhood.
City staff members worried that drivers would cut off of Western Boulevard, through the neighborhood and on to Centennial Parkway. By closing the current entrance, the city will keep cut-through traffic off the neighborhood’s streets, Lamb said.
The changes might keep coming for a few years more. The state and city already plan to fund a pedestrian tunnel beneath Avent Ferry Road, providing another link between the two campuses.
The state also has tentative plans to replace the bridge that brings Pullen Road across the westbound lanes of Western Boulevard. When that happens, the N.C. Department of Transportation may consider creating a full interchange at the intersection, eliminating the traffic signal where Pullen meets the eastbound lanes.