The N.C. Museum of Art and its 164-acre park are easy to reach on foot and bicycle via trails and sidewalks from the north, east and west.
But heading south, across Wade Avenue toward the N.C. State Fairgrounds and PNC Arena, those options disappear.
That will soon change as the City of Raleigh begins building a new 10-foot-wide path along the west side of Blue Ridge Road, from just north of Wade Avenue south toward Trinity Road. The path will be the first accommodations for pedestrians along this busy stretch of five-lane road.
Besides the museum, arena and fairgrounds, the path will make it easier to walk or ride to the N.C. School of Veterinary Medicine and the future headquarters of the state Department of Health and Human Services. The state has begun work on an 11-story office building and 900-car parking deck for DHHS on the site of a former mail center and book warehouse on the corner of Blue Ridge and Reedy Creek Road.
The $5.5 million bike-ped project will include a new bridge to carry the path over Wade Avenue. City officials say a separate bridge is easier to build than widening the existing one and will be safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
The project will also include what’s known as a “protected intersection” at Blue Ridge and Reedy Creek, at the main entrance to the art museum. The intersection will include more distinct crosswalks and islands on each corner to protect cyclists and pedestrians. The islands also create wider, sharper turns for cars, forcing drivers to slow down and making it easier for them to see pedestrians or cyclists.
Construction was expected to begin last summer, but was delayed until this week because contractors had trouble obtaining iron water pipes, said Brian Roth-Roffy, project manager for the city. To build the bridge, the city first needs to relocate and upgrade a drinking water line, Roth-Roffy said.
The bridge, path and intersection work are expected to take 15 months to complete. The city has hoped to finish before the 2023 State Fair, but the late start makes that unlikely, Roth-Roffy said
“It will probably be early 2024 when it’s all is said and done,” he said.
The city’s trail is on the west side of Blue Ridge Road. On the north side of the Wade interchange, the path will cross Blue Ridge and connect with an existing multi-use path in front of the art museum park and parking lot. The crosswalk connecting the two will include a new concrete island or refuge halfway across.
Someday, the path will likely continue up the west side of Blue Ridge, as the state redevelops its property near the DHHS headquarters, but currently there are no sidewalks there.
The city’s path will go as far south as the N.C. Department of Transportation maintenance garage at the corner of Blue Ridge and Trinity. From there, NCDOT will extend the path past the fairgrounds, when it builds an underpass to carry Blue Ridge under Hillsborough Street and the N.C. Railroad. Work on the underpass began earlier this year and is scheduled to be finished in 2024.