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As alternatives to two official options for a fast train path through downtown Raleigh, loosely organized groups of Raleigh citizens are pushing two unofficial variations – different from each other but not, their backers say, in opposition to each other – for consideration by the Raleigh City Council and the state Department of Transportation.
Some council members are expected Tuesday either to urge the city’s formal endorsement for one of the new options, or to push for delay and more study by DOT.
Each of the new citizen proposals involves a long railroad bridge curving across Capital Boulevard. One would be north of the Capital bridge over Peace Street. The other would be just south of Peace Street, and north of the CSX railroad bridge over Capital.
NCDOT has proposed to route the trains either on the west side of Capital Boulevard through the Norfolk Southern freight rail corridor, or on Capital’s east side through the CSX corridor.
The Norfolk Southern option looked like a heavy favorite – backed by city planners and a citizen task force – until Five Points neighborhood residents organized their opposition. They worried that train noise and vibration would rattle their homes, erode their property values and drown out their sidewalk conversations. The Five Points opposition dominated a city council public hearing last week.
An engineer intern named Terry Rekeweg drafted the first alternative proposal, a hybrid of the DOT options, that his allies said would avoid shortcomings of both the Norfolk Southern and CSX routes. Steven Waters, who chairs the city’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory commission, is pushing the Rekeweg plan.
It would take the new high-speed trains north from downtown, cross Jones Street, continue north in the Norfolk Southern corridor past the point where CSX tracks curve away to the east, and past the West at North condo tower – and then veer east on a new 1400-foot viaduct over Capital Boulevard, joining the CSX tracks just south of the historic Cotton Mill.
NCDOT engineers panned the first version of the Rekeweg/Waters option. They cited several problems. It required a too-steep slope for the trains that would climb uphill from the CSX tracks to travel over Capital Boulevard. Concerns were voiced also about impacts on the Cotton Mill and on West at North.
A variation on Rekeweg/Waters idea was broached last week by Ben Kuhn, a Five Points area resident who says his house sits uncomfortably close to the Norfolk Southern path. Kuhn, a lawyer, was aided by an engineer who is his neighbor, Rick Baker.
The Kuhn proposal would lift the trains over Capital where the busy boulevard is lower, so clearance would be easier and no steep grade would be needed for the railroad bridge, Kuhn said. It would join the CSX tracks north of the Cotton Mill.
Waters published modifications to the Rekeweg proposal over the weekend. He said changes had been made to reduce the impact on West at North and the Cotton Mill, although it was possible that this proposal would force the removal of the nearby canopy of the Seaboard Station platform.
Waters had said last week that Capital Boulevard – the busiest road inside Raleigh's Beltline – "can easily be lowered" one or two feet if necessary, to provide enough clearance for the trains overhead.
But he said on his blog this weekend that the railroad viaduct could span the boulevard with enough clearance – and without the steep slope that had worried DOT– so that Capital would not have to be lowered after all.
Kuhn met with DOT officials and engineers Friday and said they had been receptive to his ideas. Marc Hamel, one of the DOT officials overseeing the project, said by e-mail that he and DOT engineer Jason Orthner promised Kuhn they would take a close look at his idea:
We talked about his proposal, and we are going to give it a review just like we looked at Terry Rekeweg's proposal. As he drew it, Ben's alternative wouldn't work very well as [it] would cross over the center of the CSX rail yard. He agreed that that portion of his plan was not the best. However, Jason and I have walked over it on the ground, and Jason has a few ideas that could help. …
In the NEPA process, we are considering proposals (such as Ben's) if they meet the purpose & need, show promise to be useful, and we are always looking to see if a proposal "fits" in a positive way.
Here’s a link to the latest version of the Rekeweg/Waters proposal.
Below are documents Kuhn submitted to City Council members Monday.