The Leesville Road widening project has been seven years in the making. But Tuesday night, the city council moved the project back into committee after residents expressed concerns about the impact the $7 million project would have on their properties — including the possibility of disturbing a century-old family cemetery.
The Leesville Road widening project was proposed in 2005, with funding secured from a transportation bond the same year. The one-mile long project will expand Leesville Road between New Leesville Road and ends just short of the I-540 exit.
The area has developed quickly, including the 2008 opening of Sycamore Creek Elementary School, St. Francis of Assisi Church and the development of numerous subdivisions around this area.
Project design manager Len Hill with Aecom told Councilors at Tuesday’s public hearing that traffic estimates along this stretch of road call for 30,000 vehicles per day by 2015. That estimate increases to 55,000 per day by 2035.
To accommodate that traffic, the plans call for widening the now two-lane road to a four lane road with median and a five-foot bicycle lane on each side of the road.
This construction plan doesn’t come without its concerns for residential impact of this once-rural area.
Hill noted that two areas in particularly will be negatively impacted by the widening project.
The Ward family, which owns a 200-acre farmstead in the area, will lose an aged stone wall to land acquisition for the project.
“We’d prefer the property not come from us,” owner Susan Ward told the council. “But, if it does, we request full compensation for moving and rebuilding the wall.”
That cost, as she shared in an estimate to the council, will be $174,000 and doesn’t include the loss of landscaping, driveway space and a drainage system around the wall.
Ward added that she understood the need for progress but, “we prefer to preserve a more natural way of life.”
But, in the event of construction, “those are our requests. I know it’s asking a lot, but you’re asking a lot.”
For descendents of the Lynn family, the project seems to be asking more than monetary compensation can afford.
The proposed widening also infringes on a family cemetery at the intersection of Leesville Road and Crestmont Drive.
Though Hill told the council that the design team “looked at the widening on either side of the road, it will still have to impact the cemetery and we would have to relocate five graves to the back side of that property.”
Grave removal isn’t new for Kay Lynn Buchanan, who has a number of relatives buried in this cemetery and maintains the plots. She oversaw the movement of other ancestors in Wake County when Fed Ex bought her family property near the Raleigh-Durham airport.
But this request is too much for her and her relatives to accept.
“My mom, my dad, my brother, my grandparents and my great-grandparents are out there. I want to be out there when my time comes. It’s my family there,” she told the council.
The five graves proposed for relocation include Buchanan’s grandmother, but not her grandfather.
“That means my grandparents could be separated,” she added. “I just can’t have that.”
Donna Mitchell, who lives in Smithfield, buried her mother in this cemetery in 1984 when Mitchell was just 12 years old.
“I lost her in a train accident and I just can’t see her being moved,” said Mitchell.
Plans for the project call for construction to begin this winter, with completion in the summer of 2014. Raleigh accelerated the project in 2007 and later included it in the city’s 2009 bicycle plan.
But the council wasn’t ready to sign off on the plans Tuesday night.
“Clearly this warrants another trip to public works,” said Mayor Nancy McFarlane.
“There is a way we could move the bodies with dignity if we have to do that,” added Councilor John Odom. “Though, I would hope we wouldn’t have to do that.”
“Let them rest in peace,” Buchanan said. “A bike lane isn’t worth all of this.”