by Bob Geary
A little history. The state DOT picked a general route for the Southeast High-Speed Rail line from Richmond to Raleigh eight years ago, when nobody was paying any attention and there was no prospect of it being funded in anybody's lifetime. The general route: Right through Raleigh; details to follow (or they don't matter).
So two years ago DOT showed up at City Hall and said the specific routes they had in mind would requiring closing and/or screwing up the streets that connect Raleigh's first successfully revitalized downtown neighborhood — Glenwood South — to the second revitalizing downtown neighborhood, which is the downtown itself.
These were the so-called NC-1 and NC-2 routes, both of which followed — with slight variations — the CSX rail corridor.
No, no, no said the city planning staff, the City Council and Mayor Charles Meeker. PLEEZE consider going through Raleigh another way. They wrote an official letter to that effect.
So DOT went away and studied the city's proposed alternative, now known as the NC-3 route. It follows the Norfolk-Southern rail corridor.
A few weeks ago, DOT was back with NC-1, NC-2 and NC-3, putting Raleigh officialdom in a box. Everybody in Raleigh is "for" high-speed rail. But almost nobody's in favor of the only three options for HSR that DOT has thus far presented.
All of which is prelude to the City Council's hearing on the subject next Tuesday, Aug. 31, 6:30 pm at City Hall.
Remember, the city has already, in effect, said no to NC-1 and NC-2.
Well, last night the vote at the Five Points CAC meeting on NC-3 was 0-81, meaning zero in favor and all 81 of the folks still there three-plus hours after the start of the meeting opposed. (About 150 opponents were there altogether; everybody who left signed anti-NC-3 petitions on the way out, it seems.)
NC-3 may be better than NC-1 or NC-2 in the Glenwood South area, you see, but north of Peace Street NC-1 and NC-2 are rather benign, while NC-3 would do real damage to the neighborhoods in the Five Points area. Or so the residents there believe — and they believe it unanimously.
(Just to be polite, Five Points also voted 65-27 in favor of HSR "being constructed in the Raleigh-Triangle area." But, of course, that assumes DOT can come up with an acceptable route somewhere in the Raleigh-Triangle area. Nobody wants to be against progress, after all.)
From a standing start three weeks ago, when all of Five Points was still blissfully unaware of what DOT and the city had in mind for them, an opposition campaign has arisen and is gaining steam. And, oh, it may be worth mentioning that it's in no way partisan — it's riled-up Democrats and riled-up Republicans joining hands and wondering why the city has forsaken them.
So what will Mayor Meeker and the Council do? They've already said they don't like NC-1 or NC-2.
Will they now:
1) Relent on NC-1/NC-2, while perhaps asking DOT to consider tunneling the project or, if it stays at-grade, to let the cross streets remain open?
2) Endorse NC-3 over the growing chorus of opponents in the Five Points, Roanoke Park and Glenwood-Brooklyn neighborhoods?
3) Telll DOT that none of the three alternatives are acceptable, and that unless a better way through town can be found, either the HSR line should go around Raleigh or the city will be forced to advocate for the "no-build alternative" that, as Planning Director Mitch Silver told the CAC last night, is inherent in any transportation alternatives process.
On the periphery of the meeting, meanwhile, an unofficial "NC-4" idea was floating around in the form of a map showing HSR coming into Raleigh from the north on the CSX tracks but then cutting over to the N-S tracks via a railroad bridge/rail platform that would span Capital Boulevard. Like this:
(Or, to see it in all its glory: FINAL_TheMap_FivePager_Option1SEHSR.pdf)
If you're following along at home, the best way to get such an NC-4 alternative on the table now, it seems, would be to suggest that NC-1 or NC-2 could be acceptable if "mitigated" — that's government-speak
for why didn't we think of this in the first place? — by the addition of a cross-Capital Boulevard RR bridge.
What's interesting to me is that nobody on the city planning staff seems to know whether Raleigh took a position for, against or neutral eight years ago when DOT made the call to punch the HSR project through the center of town. Nine alternatives were studied back in 2001-2, we're told, before the "go through the middle" alignment was picked instead of, for example, using the current Amtrak route that comes to Raleigh via Rocky Mount. I'm trying to find out more about that, not that it matters much now.