City mulls options for Crabtree traffic problems

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The city of Raleigh is reviewing possible solutions for traffic congestion around the Crabtree Valley Mall area.

The city released the public review draft of the Crabtree Valley Transportation Study Sept. 7. It includes options like widening the street behind Crabtree Valley Mall to funnel in more drivers and separating mall-bound traffic on Glenwood Avenue.

Raleigh City Council recognizes the Crabtree section of Glenwood Avenue is a nightmare for most drivers. And with increased development and talk of mall expansion, city leaders are worried Glenwood and its tributaries are on the verge of overload.

Between 40,000 and 70,000 vehicles travel on Glenwood Avenue, near Crabtree, on a daily basis. This number jumps drastically on the days between Thanksgiving and the first week of January for the holiday shopping season.

“Without increases in street capacity, mobility in Crabtree Valley will suffer, certainly by 2035 if not before,” the study reports.

The problem is that all mall traffic and incoming/outgoing Glenwood traffic converge on the same mile-long stretch of road.

“[It’s] a problem that started when the mall was built,” said Eric Lamb, Raleigh’s Transportation Services Division manager.

The “Vision for the Valley” study examined a 2.5-square-mile area between the Interstate 440 junction and Morehead Drive on Glenwood Avenue. This includes Crabtree Valley Avenue, Edwards Mill Road, Blue Ridge Road and Ridge Road to the west of Glenwood, and Lead Mine Road, North Hills Drive and Creedmoor Road to the east.

Engineering, architecture and development consulting firm Louis Berger Group analyzed more than 20 different intersections and interchanges for the study to determine weak points in traffic flow. The study team looked at things like accident frequency and the average traffic delay, in seconds, for each specific point.

The research and analysis process began last summer, and the study itself was in progress by December — just in time for the holiday mall traffic.

The study also surveyed mall customers, who were asked questions like, “Did you encounter any unusual delays before getting to the mall that made the trip longer than usual?”

After the initial research and traffic analysis, the study team created various alternatives for each individual piece of the overall plan. According to the study, “each alternative has its pedestrian, bicycle, and transit service improvement elements, which are incorporated in the traffic analysis where applicable.”

The study splits alternatives into two categories. The first is for those that minimize congestion by removing specific traffic conflicts. This includes overpasses for Glenwood through-traffic at the Creedmoor and Lead Mine intersections and an interchange for Lead Mine left turns to eastbound Glenwood.

The second category is for alternatives that reduce traffic delays by diverting traffic to improved existing routes or for those that provide all new access points to the valley. Included here is the widening and realignment of Crabtree Valley Avenue.

“[It’s] a piece we think has big potential for short-term implementation,” said Lamb.

The hope is that improvements to Crabtree Valley Avenue, and the proposed connection to I-440 and Glenwood, will make it an appealing alternative entrance for mall shoppers.

Based on public response and cost estimates, the study team chose several alternatives, including:
• B-4, the widening and realignment of Crabtree Valley Avenue
• A3-B, which consists of the extension of Crabtree Valley Avenue and the connection of Blue Ridge to I-440
• A4-B, which includes a partial grade separation at Lead Mine Road to ease delays at the Glenwood intersection.
• CR, for Creedmoor, involves the creation of a grade separation structure and a partial interchange with Glenwood.

The combination of these preferred alternatives, A5-B, is considered the master transportation plan. Essentially, the plan is comprised of a “sequential series of small improvements,” said Lamb.

“The estimated cost of the project, $90.7 million, does not factor in inflation,” said Dean Hatfield, the director of engineering at the Louis Berger Group. “As of now, costs are 20 percent under engineer predictions.”

The Louis Berger group also asked Roger Henderson, a consultant heavily involved for 10 years with the newly completed Hillsborough Street revamp, to join the Crabtree study team. Henderson has what he calls “a passion for rebalancing street systems so the focus is not just on the cars.”

His role was to ensure each proposed alteration to the Crabtree area had a focus on pedestrians first and foremost. His contributions are prominent on the study’s list of near-term improvements.

By narrowing the median and lane widths of Glenwood between Blue Ridge Road and Edwards Mill Road, Henderson and the rest of the team hope to free up enough room to build a sidewalk on the mall side and install several pedestrian refuges in the median. Along with this, they would like to reconfigure the I-440 off-ramp geometry to slow down exiting vehicles, providing an extra level of safety at pedestrian ramp crossings once further improvements allow traffic to flow more freely.

Hatfield pointed out that the study has yet to consider some factors, like environmental implications.

“The scope of the study wasn’t all encompassing,” said Hatfield.

Even though planning work still remains, Lamb said the study will be valuable for the area’s long-term future.

“Our goal with the study was to create a workable master plan,” said Lamb, “a systematic series of improvements to better the area for time to come.”

Public comment closed on the draft plan Thursday, and Lamb said it should head to the Raleigh City Council in late October or early November. City leaders are also planning to schedule a public hearing on the alternatives in January.

Area of study

View Crabtree Valley Transportation Study in a larger map