Wake County

Raleigh mayor to council: Stop 'misleading the public' about Falls of Neuse project

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane speaks during the “Primed for Amazon: Value & Cost of HQ2 for Cities” discussion at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas,  on March 10, 2018. McFarlane was one of four panelists, including Kansas City Mayor Sylvester James Jr., seated right.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane speaks during the “Primed for Amazon: Value & Cost of HQ2 for Cities” discussion at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, on March 10, 2018. McFarlane was one of four panelists, including Kansas City Mayor Sylvester James Jr., seated right. Courtesy of The U.S. Conference of Mayors

City leaders need to stop "misleading the public" and agree to move forward with the controversial widening of Falls of Neuse Road, Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said Tuesday.

McFarlane outlined her concerns Tuesday afternoon about recent actions and efforts by some city council members to delay or stop the state transportation project in North Raleigh.

The conflict is the latest in a series of spats rooted in growth, development and transportation between members of the Raleigh City Council.

"We need to put aside the political divisions on this council and move ahead," McFarlane said. "Part of that is moving to the next challenge when one has been answered. That is the case with the widening of Falls of Neuse. It is time for those who seem to want to advance their own agendas, or perhaps simply don't understand how the city works with the state, to stop misleading the public."

Council member David Cox — who represents the area where Falls of Neuse would be widened from five to six lanes between Durant Road and Interstate 540 — has been a frequent critic of the project. He said as recently as this month he'd want the funding for the project moved to other transportation priorities.

Neighbors and community members are upset, and "wishing the problem" away won't solve it, he said after the meeting Tuesday. The mayor's comments were surprising and wrong, he said, adding the project is not a "settled issue."

"I think there were inaccuracies and misleading information in some of the things she said about the funding," he said. "And about what would happen if the project were canceled and delayed. I think it's unfortunate that I am facing and the citizens of North Raleigh are facing a serious closed-minded (mayor) on this issue."

Cox gave council members a petition with more than 300 names of people who oppose the widening project.

Raleigh leaders voted to request funding for the widening of Falls of Neuse Road in 2013 after submitting the project to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional transportation board, which recommended the state fund the project.

"The council has serious work ahead, and we need to focus on that work, not to try to waste the public's time in rehashing issues that were settled — long ago settled — after a lot of debate and I might add, after those affected were given ample opportunity to be heard," McFalane said. "Indications are that this widening is in fact supported by the overwhelming majority of people who live in this region."

Some adjustments were made to the widening project to lessen the impact to the residential areas after receiving public comments, said Joey Hopkins, a division engineer overseeing the project for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

The state is in the middle of the design process, and while there might be small tweaks, Hopkins said he didn't expect sweeping changes. The council would have to amend its transit plans for big changes to occur.

The state could begin acquiring property for the right-of-way by the end of this year.

"If the council votes to stop it, it doesn't change the fact we are consistent with the laws," Hopkins said.

DOT would have to review how it works with the city on future projects if the council pulls its support for the widening of Falls of Neuse, he said, adding an agreement for future projects might require the city to pay the project costs up to the point it pulls its support.

'A poor way to manage the city'

The mayor's statement was the second time she and Cox sparred over transportation issues during Tuesday's meeting.

Cox asked Raleigh staff to look at what it would take to update the city's transportation plan, which was approved in 2009, and bring that report back to council during a future meeting. The idea was supported by council members Kay Crowder, Russ Stephenson, Stef Mendell and Cox, but not by council members Corey Branch, Nicole Stewart, Dickie Thompson and McFarlane. The split vote meant the request would not go forward.

"It's a poor way to manage the city when you refuse to want to update something as significant as a transportation plan after 10 years," Cox said after the meeting. "So I am a little flabbergasted by that."

McFarlane asked that the council first hear back from planning staff members who are in the middle of recommending updates to the city's comprehensive plan later this year. Part of that process would include any updates to various transit, bicycle, street and pedestrian plans.

'Political payback'

Raleigh leaders also split earlier in the summer on whether to forcibly remove former Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin from a different regional transportation board.

Mendell, Cox, Thompson, Stephenson and Crowder voted to remove Baldwin from the GoTriangle Board of Trustees and replace her with Stephenson because they wanted a current council member on the board. McFarlane, Branch and Stewart voted against the move.

"Council is elected by the people," Cox said at the time. "Council is responsible to the people, and transit is going to be very important over the next couple of years. There's going to be an aggressive plan moving forward. And I just felt it was important to have someone from council to be on the board."

Baldwin chose not to run for re-election last fall, but was in the middle of her term on the GoTriangle board. She had served on the board since 2009. She's a frequent critic of some council members — including Cox, Mendell, Stephenson and Crowder — for not moving fast enough on certain issues like backyard cottages and short-term rentals.

"I think it’s political payback," Baldwin said. "Payback for being vocal and not agreeing with everything that they do."

Branch, who is the council liaison to the GoRaleigh transportation board and serves as the chairman of the council's transit committee, said he was blindsided and found out about the vote at the table.

"I just have to say I think it's really unfortunate and it sends a bad message to the people we entrust to serve on boards who have dedicated years representing the city of Raleigh and been integral in the community," McFarlane said at the time. "It's a shame that politics sometimes interferes with that."

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