A split island station at Raleigh Boulevard

For more than a century, New Bern Avenue has served as the eastern gateway to Raleigh, and an upcoming bus route aims to revitalize the area.

The New Bern Avenue corridor, which runs through one of the most vibrant areas in the City of Oaks, is home to historically Black neighborhoods founded in the early 20th century, as well as mid-century suburbs and new, modern apartment complexes that coexist currently. But that rich history, and rapid new growth, has come with a cost: much of New Bern Avenue faces flooding issues, a lack of pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and an almost century-old water system. In tandem with the new bus route, the city hopes to address these issues as well, said Jason Hardin, a senior planner with the city, during a Raleigh City Council meeting last week.

“It always, always makes sense, when any significant transportation or other public investment is planned, to think really closely about other impacts and how we can provide the biggest benefit possible,” Hardin said. “So, with a transit project, that means it really can increase access to opportunity, jobs, education.” 

The New Bern Avenue BRT corridor spans approximately 5.1 miles and is part of Wake County’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) initiative that was approved in 2016. The New Bern Avenue BRT route, which will connect key locations such as WakeMed hospital and a number of businesses to nearby neighborhoods and downtown Raleigh, is the eastern sector of the four major bus routes that are currently planned for and that will be constructed in the near future. 

But more is being added to New Bern Avenue than just the new BRT infrastructure. Alongside the signature transit-only lanes west of the Beltline and stations that characterize the Wake BRT plan, the streets will also undergo revitalization. 

Sean Driskill, a roadway design engineer for the City of Raleigh, is overseeing the designs from engineering firm HNTB for the public transit project. In a conversation with the INDY, Driskill said the scope of the project includes renovating New Bern Avenue, with a separate transit-only lane set to be built between downtown Raleigh and Sunnybrook Road. Throughout the whole route, 19 BRT platforms will be built.

“Some of our larger projects [require] a two-year construction period and that’s what this one will fall into,” Driskill said. “That’s not only due to the length of the work but just the complexity as well regarding all the other stakeholders involved, like all the private utilities and relocation work.”

Sidewalks, which are largely scattered and fragmented along New Bern Avenue, will also be implemented for pedestrians on the north side of New Bern Avenue. An asphalt multi-use path will be constructed on the south side of New Bern Avenue as a way to provide multimodal transportation options for residents. Driskill and Mila Vega, a planning supervisor at the City of Raleigh’s Transportation department, said the project will follow ADA guidelines to ensure sidewalks and bus stops are ADA accessible.

“We went down to a level of detail,” Vega said. “If we have a station in the median, how easy is it to read the name of the station from a sidewalk when you cross? How easy is it to identify the station and see the information on it?”

In coordination with the bus project, Raleigh Water will upgrade New Bern Avenue’s water and sewer pipelines, which were installed as far back as the 1890s. 

Eileen Navarrete, an engineering manager at Raleigh Water, said it’s a common practice for the city to integrate water and sewer replacements with engineering services and transportation projects. She emphasized that the area’s water and sewer infrastructure “has a lot of age and history on it as well.”

The total budget for the project comes in at $72.5 million. Of that, $35 million is supported by a Federal Transit Administration grant, and the rest will largely be funded from the city’s property and sales tax revenues, according to Vega. Separately, the water and sewer pipeline renovations are projected to cost approximately $6.1 million. 

Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin added during the council meeting that $5.4 million was allocated to the New Bern Avenue BRT project from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made the announcement last week and it is part of a $250 million plan to fund transit projects across the country. 

“This does not replace any funding we’re getting,” Baldwin said. “It’s an add-on that will assist us with our local match, so I just wanted to say how appreciative I am of the U.S. DOT [Department of Transportation] continuing their support of our projects.”

The massive changes and renovations to New Bern Avenue haven’t been met without concerns. Roadway Design and Construction Manager Kenneth Ritchie said at the council meeting that designers were actively in contact with the First Baptist Church and other nearby residents after councilman Corey Branch had inquired as to whether the designers were making sure community impacts were being considered and minimized. 

Driskill told the INDY that, while the project is set to bring various large changes to the area — the biggest visible change being the transit-only median lanes and pedestrian improvements — designers are working to ensure the property impact is minimized.

“We have more engagement because we have more stuff to present to these home [and business] owners,” Driskill said.“The next time we reach out, it’s going to be during pre-construction, so we’ll have a public pre-construction meeting sometime next year, and at that point, the City of Raleigh will go into more detail regarding the construction schedule, the possible sequence of construction activities, and what the traffic control is going to look like [during construction].”

This story has been updated from an earlier version. 

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com

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