Wednesday, September 1, 2010


No...this has nothing to do with my Photography biz...but I didn't want to create another blog.
If you want to read about my work...just skip to the next post...otherwise read on.

I recently attended several community meetings regarding the recommendations of the NC1, NC2, and NC3 rail corridor options proposed by the NC Department of Transportation Railroad division for a High Speed Rail (HSR) line through the city of Raleigh. As a resident of Five Points for 23 years, obviously the construction of a major rail corridor close to our neighborhood is something that I wanted to look at fairly closely. A vocal contingent of the neighborhood has been actively campaigning about the NC3 option which brings the HSR line down beside the existing Norfolk Southern Railway line on the west side of Raleigh's Capital Blvd...a main thoroughfare into downtown Raleigh.

First of all I have several comments about HSR. The first is that I'm for the idea of HSR and would utilize the service if it was convenient and fast enough to take me to other cities safely and without the hassles of airplane travel. I have traveled enough in England to know that even regular train service in high density areas is convenient and for the most part a regular mode of transportation for many. I'm not sure the population density levels in North Carolina or the Southeast will generate the demand for HSR without major subsidization.
Currently President Obama has authorized funds to build a HSR system on the eastern seaboard and Federal Railway and Statewide DOT's departments are going ahead with plans that have been mandated by the Federal Government. So...we have a mandated HSR system that is going to be built and the requirements for such will impose restrictions on the lines with respect to very limited access to pedestrian or vehicular closing all rail/roadway intersections and replacing them with mitigating bridges or tunnels, or simply rerouting traffic through other options.
(I do question whether the HSR will be truly high speed. My feeling is that 10 years from now when it is built (maybe) it should be at a speed that is more than the planned 110 mph maximum speed. )

I'm not sure at what point, but the City of Raleigh engineers had been presented two plans for HSR by NCDOT, namely NC1 & NC2 which were basically identical, but in the view of city engineers created a impact to downtown Raleigh which they deemed to be larger than necessary. NC1 and NC2 both took the HSR east of Capital Blvd. away from the Five Points neighborhood, but closer to the Mordacai neighborhood.
NCDOT offered up a new plan that is referred to as NC3 which eases the impact on downtown, but will cost more and create more impact on housing and businesses.

The engineers for the city can only evaluate plans that the NCDOT have presented to them. The NCDOT is providing the "broad brush" plans to get feedback from the city engineers, city council as well as residents as to preference and best solution for the long term growth of the City of Raleigh as well as every city and community that will be effected by this HSR project.

I got in trouble with one of my nice neighbors that didn't like the fact that I referred to being surrounded by NIMBY's in response to the appearance of hundreds of signs in the neighbor all telling me to VOTE NO to if I had a choice to vote NO. In informal votes of the hood, apparently most were in favor of HSR, but not of proposal NC3 due to it's impact on Five Points. That's the definition of NIMBY (Not in my back yard!...for those that don't know.)

I'm not for NC3, but I'm not against it either. The arguments against NC3 have yet to convince me that it's not the best solution for the HSR. I defer to the engineers first as to the lesser impact to downtown Raleigh.
One of the principle complaints about HSR and NC3 is that noise and vibration levels will increase dramatically and cause damage to terracotta pipes etc. I don't believe this to be true.
In 1985, I was finishing up my Civil Engineering degree at NC State and one of my senior projects was to measure the sound levels of train traffic through the NC State campus and how it effects students, faculty, and staff. I really wish I could find the data, because I might have it stored somewhere...just don't know where, but my memory was that first of all Amtrak passenger trains were far quieter than the more laboring freight traffic. The noise of the freight increased with respect to the number of locamotives and the noise was more of a bother when the freight was traveling slowly because the noise lingered. The Amtrak moved through quickly and the noise was not deemed a problem even during conversation. Our final conclusions were that the train noise did not impede any function on campus at all unless you had a window open within 100 feet of the tracks as a freight train went by. Closing the window usually eliminated the majority of the noise.
This was not a "professional" study, but I do remember we got an "A" on it. I do think however, that the NC DOT dropped the ball on their own last night at the Raleigh City Council open hearing on NC3. They didn't have adequate data of their own that was very convincing. It would have been easy to do a study giving exact decibal levels from one train to another and the impact given a certain distance away. I didn't get the impression that they had done their homework on that topic. Besides by closing off the Fairview Road exit as suggested by NC3, then the trains will no longer have to blow their whistle... which is the only noise that has effected conversations when I was outside and close to the tracks.

Another complaint is that property values will decrease in the neighborhood due to the historic nature of the neighborhood. Yes...if you have the train going through your back yard, then it is likely that your property value will decrease. The tracks don't go through Five Points, they skirt the outside edge bordering Capital Blvd.
If you are currently trying to sell a home that has been identified for eminent domain, that is tragic. However, if this sound insensitive, it is not meant to be. If you buy a house next to a rail corridor or major road corridor, then the chances are you got a better deal than if you purchased further into a neighborhood. There is always a chance that your property or a portion may be claimed via eminent domain whether it be a widening of the adjacent roadway, or a major highway being built overhead. The chances are dramatically increased on those properties that are already adjacent to major corridors. values will go down for those directly effected, but I argue that with the reduced traffic through the neighborhood... not using Fairview road as a cutoff... will actually make Five Points quieter and in turn increase property values. How someone could come up with the idea last night in public comment that residents will be afraid in their own neighborhoods is beyond me. I'm more afraid of coming home to find someone breaking into my house. That does happen in this neighborhood.

(Note: I will say that if you are trying to sell your property now and your house has been preliminarily identified for eminent domain acquisition, then there is possible basis for a lawsuit brought against NCDOT for putting effected residents at a distinct disadvantage without immediate compensation. )

As for the cost...the cost is more than the other two options offered. However, I defer again to the engineers who apparently see the added cost as necessary to reduce overall impact on other neighborhoods. I don't always hire the low bid on my own projects as there is usually a reason. Higher cost usually means that you are getting a better solution...(Granted...not always.)

I do respect all the opinions that were offered last night, and if I were a homeowner that was directly effected by a train going through my backyard, I would probably we looking for anyway I could to get out of my house without losing my shirt...if that means railing against the city be it. I just don't agree with the arguments put forth so far as to why we shouldn't allow HSR to come along the west side of Capital.

There will be many, many neighborhoods effected by this HSR...and why should we be for HSR, but "not here". As a neighborhood that is what I am hearing, and I will continue to describe myself as surrounded by NIMBY's...nice as they may be.

I will put this forth as a footnote: When I originally heard about the plan, I thought a better solution would be to put a HSR station on the East side of Capital Blvd. north of the old Seaboard station. Wade Ave. should be brought across Capital such that west Raleigh residents could access it quickly as could North and East Raleigh residents. There would be plenty of parking. However in hearing the recommendations of the City Engineers, the existing plan for a multi-modal station downtown makes this proposal moot.