By DOLORES ABERNATHY
RALEIGH – Mayor Nancy McFarlane joined a majority of the City Council here in approving a multi-year, $200B project that will create “The Big Ditch,” a meandering, neighborhood-to-neighborhood culvert stretching from downtown to beyond Cameron Village and making a majority of the streets impassable to anything but BMX bikes and Bob strollers.
The project, which was already underway, got final approval Monday as the City Council “sort of threw up its collective hands and said ‘screw it’,” according to Council member Stef Mendell. Parts of Hillsborough Street, Oberlin Road, Park Drive, Clark Avenue, Enterprise Street, Park Avenue, most of the warehouse district, and half of NCSU are essentially closed off already due to utilities replacements, four-to-six story mixed-use beige buildings, and luxury student condos, a concept apparently imported from UNC-Chapel Hill. Mendell continued, “I mean, why not just connect all these projects that we – for God only knows what reason – allowed to happen at the exact same time. We’ll just make it look intentional. And give it a snappy name. You’re not a reporter, are you?”
Based on Boston’s “The Big Dig” project, Raleigh’s “The Big Ditch” will have many similar features, including years of infuriating detours, muddy trenches, and traffic jams at rush hours and non-rush hours.
“It’s pretty exciting, really,” said At-Large Councilman Russ Stephenson, whose neighborhood is already utterly encompassed by The Big Ditch. “The only difference between us and Boston is that at the end, we won’t have a state-of-the-art mass transit and highway system underground. Instead, we’ll have new sewer lines and maybe Google Fiber.”
Dissenting were Council members Corey Branch and Dickie Thompson, albeit for different reasons.
“You know good and well where they’re going to send all those damn 5K races that clog up the streets every Saturday,” said Branch, who represents District C. “They’re going to send them to my district, where all the runners can talk about how much they love Southeast Raleigh while they eat their after-race kale at the Whole Foods.”
Thompson, who represents District A, concurred in his disapproval for the project. “It’s funny how ITB gets all the exciting projects that snarl traffic and put confusing roundabouts at every conceivable intersection. When is OTB getting its own Big Ditch? We’re part of Raleigh too.”