Raleigh Union Station’s funding shortfall grows as costs mount

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJuly 19, 2013 

— The estimated price tag for Raleigh’s proposed train hub has increased $13 million since last year – widening the project’s funding gap and prompting talk of a smaller, temporary station.

State transportation officials told a city rail committee Wednesday that the project needs an additional $35 million to be fully funded.

The shortfall is partly the result of a funding shift made public earlier this year: $15.1 million that officials announced as allocated last September was instead needed for a Raleigh-to-Charlotte rail line. Also, about $7 million in federal grants listed in the September total was actually intended for a separate track improvement project. State rail director Paul Worley said he’s not sure why those funds were included.

And as architects’ plans for the Grand Central-style station took shape, the total price tag went from $60 million to $73 million. Worley says the earlier estimate was based on a “really basic feasibility study,” and cost projections for multiple aspects of the station have since increased.

With the shortfall looming, N.C. Department of Transportation engineer Craig Newton presented options Wednesday for a scaled-back project. About $30 million of what’s currently in hand is federal stimulus money, and it has to be spent soon.

“It can’t be a bridge to nowhere,” Newton said. “We’ve identified components we could build and complete, and it would be a benefit to passenger rail service.”

A $30 million budget would open a temporary station south of the eventual site. It would still be larger than the current Cabarrus Street station, and raised platforms would make it easier for Amtrak passengers to board. But the temporary option would cost an extra $1.3 million outside of the permanent plan.

“It’ll probably be a modular facility,” Newton said. “Amtrak’s accustomed to using them across the nation.”

Durham’s depot occupied one from 1996 until a new station opened in 2009, and the small facility was dubbed the “Amshack.”

There’s still hope for a renovated Dillon Supply Viaduct building. Raleigh will learn by September if the city will get as much as $20 million from another federal grant. If the city receives at least $15 million, the station would open with a partial renovation of the Viaduct building – still doubling the size of Raleigh’s current station. About $28 million in additional funding would cover a civic plaza at the corner of Martin and West streets.

Architects from the firm Clearscapes will continue to flesh out designs for the $73 million full-fledged station. Architect Steve Schuster said that process could wrap up as early as December, and construction drawings could start next year if funding emerges. “There is a host of details yet to come,” he said.

State and local leaders stress that Schuster’s vision for the Warehouse District will eventually be a reality, but the 2017 opening date isn’t a given. Worley says his agency remains committed to the station plan.

“We want to be able to follow through and deliver projects and deliver commitments,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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