Wake County

Should Raleigh spend $1 million for art on two new bridges?

The Capital Boulevard bridge over Peace Street will be ornamented with a steel grill with a pattern that suggests oak leaves and flowing water. The grill will be backlit at night.
The Capital Boulevard bridge over Peace Street will be ornamented with a steel grill with a pattern that suggests oak leaves and flowing water. The grill will be backlit at night. Vicki Scuri SiteWorks

At least one local activist says it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money for the city to spend nearly $1 million for artwork on two bridges being built north of downtown.

Raleigh is hiring an artist to create art on the spans and abutment sidewalls of the Wade Avenue bridge over Capital Boulevard and the Capital bridge over Peace Street. The design is meant to resemble oak leaves and flowing water.

“This public art project is indefensible on so many levels,” said Joey Stansbury, who runs the conservative blog Wake Watch. “Raleigh’s downtown leadership should be honest with taxpayers. It is not necessary government services such as providing proper compensation for public servants that drive tax increases. It is outrageously wasteful projects such as this one.”

Raleigh voted to increase the property tax rate by 0.7 cents to 42.5 cents per $100 in valuation last year, the third increase in three years. The latest increase was to change the wage structure and boost pay for most city workers, while the previous increases were for Dix Park, affordable housing and parks.

The state Department of Transportation is replacing the two bridges, which are classified as “structurally deficient” due to their age. It’s part of a nearly $37 million state-funded plan to improve a 1-mile stretch of Capital Boulevard that serves as a major gateway into downtown Raleigh.

The city is paying for the bridge artwork – $40,000 to artist Vicki Scuri Siteworks and at least $879,700 for materials, installation and lighting – from a transportation fund used for participating in DOT projects.

Raleigh won’t use money in its special public-art fund. In 2009, the city began allocating one-half of 1 percent of eligible city construction costs toward public art, which has yielded installations at Sandy Forks Road, Market and Exchange plazas, Buffaloe Road Aquatic Center and Halifax Park Community Center, among other places.

The allocation was bumped up to 1 percent in 2016 after the City Council approved an arts plan, said Sarah Powers, executive director of Raleigh Arts.

“(Public art) helps us tell our story of the city and, I think in a biggest picture, it’s a way for us to show the values we have for the community,” she said. “It provides color, storytelling and an experience. It’s a place to stop and notice what is around you. It showcases the different ideas we have as a community.”

But Stansbury is critical of the bridge project, and of the special fund for public art.

“I think this program (has) time and time again demonstrated an outrageous level of wasteful spending in the city of Raleigh,” he said. “It’s adding expenses on projects which could be used in more purposeful manners for the city.”

The City Council, he argues, should “be honest with people that the real driver for (property tax increases) is wasteful projects such as this.”

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