Raleigh should roll on with a showcase Amtrak station


Raleigh has a well-deserved reputation for being governed in a sensible and moderate fashion. It’s a style that fits the history and the character of the Capital City. And it’s a style that has made Raleigh appealing and put it atop many best-places-to-live lists.

But there are times when pragmatism and caution can get in the way of opportunities to take the city to a higher level. The construction of the new Amtrak station and transit hub to be known as Union Station is one of those times.

The Raleigh City Council has been told that the project on the west side of downtown will cost an additional $16 million, bringing the total cost to $84 million. That spike caused by unanticipated utility bills and rising land values has brought out the doubters. They think the city should scale back the grand plan, which includes a public plaza and space for private leasing that could include stores and restaurants.

“Do we need to build something to this scale?” asked council member Kay Crowder. “Or should we be looking at something maybe a step back? Are we really looking at the last one we’re going to build?”

The answer is this is the one the city is building now, and it should reflect the city now – a rising, innovative and ambitious city. The City Council should stay the course and build something good, not just good enough. This project is too important to downtown and to future transit options to start cutting back. Saving money now will cost money in the long term.

The city should not trim the project by removing a planned track, postponing the showcase public plaza or cutting some of the retail space. No. For once, Raleigh needs to charge on, or roll on, and realize that the station, done right, is a winner for the long haul.

The Union Station that will rise on the site of the old Dillon Supply Viaduct could be a destination in more ways than one. Visitors to the Capital City will enjoy it as an alternative shopping venue or a place with different dining options. And it will be a jewel indeed in a downtown that has been in costume baubles for too long.

It will serve Amtrak trains and buses, and another station could be established two blocks north for a light-rail system.

This is a farsighted project. Raleigh has too often failed to look beyond the immediate future.

The project’s lead architect is Raleigh’s Steve Schuster, who has designed many imaginative spaces around the country. His plans are well-thought-out, practical and designed to work together. If the city starts cutting this and that, the concept of this spectacular plan for Union Station will be lost.

Councilman John Odom, always a cautious conservative, is not opposed to spending the money to do the project right.

“We need to move forward,” he said. “The city of Raleigh’s moving fast, and we need great opportunities.”

Anyone who has visited the current train station might have enjoyed a ride, but the station itself is an embarrassment, a bricks-and-mortar monument to a small city with few train passengers and no interest in getting more of them.

Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin connects the development of the station with the city’s future development, and that includes commercial and residential.

And here’s an example of the thinking council members need to do: Mayor Nancy McFarlane, contemplating what happens if there are cutbacks in planned retail space at the station, noted that in the long term that would cost the city some revenue.

Raleigh deserves the Union Station project as envisioned.