The good news is Union Station, a future hub for commuter, Amtrak and high-speed rail service in Raleigh, is fully funded at $60 million. The bad news is the rail corridor coming into the Union Station complex will need widened to accommodate additional sets of train tracks and the platform to service the high-speed line. And something huge is standing in the way: The warehouse buildings that the Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) sold and that Citrix, the software firm, plans to occupy as its new Raleigh headquarters.
The Citrix buildings in question are bounded by West Street and West Morgan and West Hargett streets and are breathtakingly close to the existing train tracks.
When I raised that issue with Paul Morris, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) and its point man on all things railroad, he confirmed that he's in talks with Citrix. "At some point in the future, we'll need to lop off the one bay that is closest to the tracks," Morris said. "It won't come without a cost."
In other words, because TTA sold the buildings to private owners, DOT will be forced to pay to remove a slice of those structures. When TTA bought the buildings from Dillon Supply Company as part of a $9.8 million deal 10 years ago, DOT contributed 25 percent of the purchase price, but it was never a co-owner, Morris said. Most of the money came from a federal grant.
When the TTA sold the buildings to Citrix for a reported $2 million, DOT received 25 percent of the sale price—$500,000.
Morris said DOT knew before the TTA's decision to sell the buildings that the TTA was thinking of unloading them. However, DOT did not know of the talks with Citrix and the developers, Crown and Cherokee, who were offering to be the middlemen in the transaction, until the Indy and others reported on the deal this spring.
The TTA's decision to sell the buildings to private developers throws its own light-rail transit plans into confusion. The light-rail line in downtown Raleigh is supposed to run along West Morgan Street; until TTA sold the buildings, it was thought that they would be renovated to serve as the light-rail station and to be integrated into the city's grand Union Station scheme.
Instead, the Citrix buildings stand in the way between Union Station—which will serve Amtrak and commuter/ high-speed rail—and a light-rail stop on West Morgan Street.
According to city and state transportation officials, the West Morgan Street route is now being reconsidered. It's possible that route will be pushed to West Hargett Street, an alignment earlier rejected by the city because of elevation changes that would require a bridge that would cut off one or more city streets where it connected to the surface.
City Planning and Economic Development Director Mitchell Silver told me last week that he's asked the Citrix design team to create an "arcade" passageway so passengers can walk comfortably between the Amtrak/ commuter rail station on West Martin Street and a future light-rail station on West Morgan. Without a passageway, that's a 3 1/2-block trek on the sidewalk.
Morris, meanwhile, is suggesting that Citrix design its new headquarters so that the western edge can be removed when the corridor is widened. DOT would pay for an easement. Failing that, DOT would be forced to condemn the entire property, either now—before the renovations—or later, when the Citrix complex would presumably be worth a good deal more.
One high-ranking DOT official told me privately that the TTA sale could end up costing the state $10 million.
$10 million? I asked Morris. "That's if we're forced into condemnation," he said. "The good news is, we're in talks with Citrix already."
Granted, light rail could be 10–20 years away from happening in Raleigh. But commuter rail trains, Amtrak-like service limited to a route using the existing rail corridor from Johnston County to Raleigh to Durham, could be a reality in less than a decade.
Meanwhile, Southeast High Speed Rail service through Raleigh could arrive as early as 2020, Morris said. N.C. DOT and its Virginia counterpart continue to plow ahead on plans for that service with the hope of obtaining a major federal grant during a second Obama administration.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Wrong side of the tracks."