The Tryon Road project, also known as U-4432, is not funded for construction in the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) current 5-year work program [138 page PDF]. This could spell trouble for the commercial and mixed use part of the Renaissance Park development as well as the widening (Part C) and realignment of Tryon Road from Lake Wheeler Road to South Wilmington Street. Finishing the Tryon Road expansion project from Cary, NC to Garner, NC would complete a major artery between Raleigh, Cary, and Garner and reduce the amount of congestion along this corridor.
It’s not like we’ll need the estimated $300,000,000.00 to replace the Oregon Inlet bridge (I’m a Dare County boy so I can say that), but we need more than zero. And I think we need it faster than five years from now. Maybe we could borrow a few pylons?
I met with Ed Johnson, Director of North Carolina’s Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) on Friday, February 26, 2010 along with Renaissance Park residents Anthony McLeod and Mo Johnson. Nina Szlosberg, who is a member of the NCDOT Board of Transportation and Kyle Ward, Transportation Engineer, were also present. Big thanks to Nina for setting this meeting up on our behalf and to Kyle for being prepared and up to speed on the current situation.
We got a brief overview of the details of the entire project, which is complicated and involves multiple parties. I was still unclear who makes the final decisions about projects of this natures. The current players involved include NCDOT, CAMPO, and the City of Raleigh. Best I can tell, here are the three pieces of the project from West to East and the status of each:
- Part C, widening Tryon Road from Lake Wheeler Road to the rail bridge–to be funded by the City of Raleigh and slotted for completion by 2015.
- U-4432, Tryon Road bridge project–currently not funded by NCDOT and not on the 5-year work plan.
- Tryon Road connections, that would connect the existing infrastructure built by Renaissance Park developers, Wakefield Development, to 1) the bridge and 2) South Wilmington Street. This section is to be funded by NCDOT and completed by 2015.
NCDOT is currently undergoing a new prioritization process to rank projects based on a qualitative and quantitative analysis. CAMPO submitted a list of their top 25 projects in priority order. Each NCDOT Division also prioritized their top 25 projects. The U-4432 project was not ranked by CAMPO and was ranked 22nd on NCDOT Division 5’s list.
However, according to the 2011-2017 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) adopted by the City of Raleigh, the Tryon Road realignment, from NS Railroad to Wilmington Street (US 70-401) is ranked number 8 on their priority list. The project calls for the construction of a four-lane median section on the new location (Renaissance Park) and replacing the structure over the railroad (bridge) at an estimated $5,200,000. Being included in the TIP usually indicates that there is funding for the project. I have confirmed that Tryon Road Part C (Lake Wheeler Road to the bridge) is funded by the City of Raleigh, but it’s likely that city funded road projects will be pushed back due to budget shortfalls. Source: 2011-2017_TIP_Adopted_Priority_List_10072008 [PDF].
According to NCDOT officials,
“All projects on these lists are currently going through the new prioritization analysis to generate a numerical score and ranking based on various criteria that includes Safety, Mobility (congestion), Infrastructure Health (pavement and bridge condition) and also type of facility (Statewide, Regional and Subregional). After all projects are ranked, our Program Development Unit will apply various constraints such as Equity Balance, Funding Eligibility, and Statutory Constraints to determine how far down the priority list we can fund new projects. A DRAFT 5-year plan should be released in May 2010.”
The Tryon Road project is classified in the Subregional tier. I learned that in CAMPO’s analysis, there typically isn’t enough data to rank the roads in the Subregional tier, which is hurting U-4432. I am uncertain how other factors, such as the land use of the Renaissance Park mixed use plans and the completion of the entire Tryon Road expansion, can impact the projects’ ranking.
In the current scenario, considerable planning and design work has been completed for U-4432 and like other unfunded projects, it will need to compete for limited highway funds. But the Subregional tier classification isn’t the only thing hurting this project. The state’s infamous equity formula, which some call the inequity formula, divides the pie of road money equally across the state, with little consideration for urban versus rural needs or balances. Unlike other types of road projects, there are no other funding options available for this type of project.
What are we left with? We didn’t go to CAMPO expecting to find some magic funding, although that would have been sweet. We did come away with potential solutions and opportunities to pursue. We need to move fast because the next round of money is in play right now. The Tryon Road project has the added benefits that it’s already had several community meetings held and State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) studies completed. One option is to position this as a Federal project and apply for stimulus funds. This would require the environmental assessment documents to be updated from the state level analysis and upgraded to federal standards, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Eric J. Lamb, PE, Transportation Services Division Manager for the City of Raleigh Public Works Department has informed us that, “A SEPA-compliant Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (EA/FONSI) has been completed for this project. The reason the study was conducted under SEPA and not NEPA is that a federal environmental document likely would’ve meant that the RGA clubhouse would have to be torn down to avoid any impacts to the National Register property [Delta Sigma Phi property] across the street.”
The decision to pursue the SEPA compliant document placed the decision on impacts in the hands of the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission. During this evaluation, they ruled that the roadway could impact the Delta Sigma Phi property and allowed for the relocation of their wall. Lamb further went on to tell us, “This outcome is unlikely in a federal evaluation, but the tradeoff is that now only state money can be used. If there’s a choice to go to the federal well to get the project funded, there’s a probable community cost associated with that decision.”
Anthony and I already met once with Representative Deborah Ross on Tryon Road. It’s time to circle back with Rep. Ross and request that the NCDOT provide an alternative analysis and impact study under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and have the existing documents become compliant with federal standards.
Another option that we discussed was the possibility to realign Tryon Road without the widening. We believe this could be possible, particularly to address the economic development issues at Renaissance Park to promote mixed use and maintain the original intentions for the land use.
Anthony, Mo, and I have some work to do with Representative Ross and NCDOT. There is one thing that each of you can do to help. Sign the Tryon Road Realignment petition started by the Renaissance Park community. After you sign, it, ask some of your friends to sign it. Tweet it. Put it on Facebook. Become a fan. Whether you use the road daily or just every now and then, your signature can help. It can speak volumes if we have to start asking folks in Congress and the House of Representative’s for federal stimulus money.
Visit. Sign. Tell a friend.
Thanks to Eric Lamb, Anthony McLeod, and Mo Johnson for collaborating and reviewing this article for accuracy.