A small stand of trees is all that separates Michael Kannon’s Southwest Raleigh home from the Interstate 440 Beltline. As state transportation officials unveil plans to widen the road, Kannon worries the highway could come even closer.
Kannon says other homes on Aukland Street were razed when the Beltline was built around 1960. The state Department of Transportation will likely need more land for widening, though it hasn’t determined where.
“Are we going to get shafted by this?” Kannon asked at a public forum on the project at the Method Road Community Center.
Kannon was among dozens of neighbors who weighed in Monday. Nearly all agree that the 3.5-mile stretch between Wade Avenue and Cary’s Walnut Street – the Beltline’s oldest segment – needs an overhaul, but they’re concerned about how the project will affect homes and parks that border the highway.
DOT engineers are in the early stages of planning a $92 million upgrade that will widen I-440 with a third lane in each direction. Interchanges will be redesigned with easier on- and off-ramps. Some of the quirkier features of 52-year-old highway design, such as the lefthand merge lane from Western Boulevard, will be eliminated.
Construction starts in 2018. Many details have not been worked out yet, including which properties along the road might be affected. The state owns only a narrow strip of land along this part of the Beltline, no wider in some places than 80 to 120 feet.
The narrowest section is just south of the Hillsborough Street interchange. Federal rules won’t let the state take land from public parks, project engineer Leza Wright Mundt said, so Method Road Park wouldn’t be affected. Buildings owned by N.C. State University across the highway, though, would be fair game.
Several interchanges – Hillsborough Street, Western Boulevard and Jones Franklin Road in particular – will be redesigned with less confusing traffic patterns and longer merge lanes. But the merge-heavy interchange of I-40, I-440 and U.S. 1/64 likely won’t change much, Mundt said. Also, the road will get a median barrier for safety and sound walls where it passes alongside homes.
The four-lane Beltline section often bottlenecks because it’s sandwiched between six-lane sections north of Wade Avenue and on U.S. 1/64 south of Walnut Street.Drivers who use the antiquated section are eager for the changes. At the Hillsborough Street on-ramp, said Crag Perry, “there’s no room to accelerate. ... People in Raleigh love to speed up and cut you off.”
The DOT isn’t yet sure whether it will keep the Beltline’s quietest interchange, which leads directly into the Cardinal Hills neighborhood at Melbourne Road. “Partial interchanges (that access only one side of the highway) are something that today we would not build,” Mundt said. “We’re asking people in the neighborhood whether they like the ramps.”
Ted Shear said his neighbors are split depending on how close they live to the interchange. “Those who bear most of the traffic want to see it go away,” he said.
But others worry losing the highway access would isolate the area, leaving Powell Drive as the primary entrance to the neighborhood. “Cardinal Hills will be cut off,” Kannon said.
Neighbors are also concerned about environmental features in the area. White Oak Lake, a small body of water in Cardinal Hills, borders the Beltline, and Lake Johnson is nearby. “My biggest concern is protecting Lake Johnson,” Perry said.
The DOT will conduct environmental studies and draw up specific plans for the project in the coming years. Detailed options will go before the community sometime in late 2014.