S Saunders/Western/MLK Interchange

Actually, I think it would be possible to split the difference and build an intersection, though it would be a rather ambitious undertaking. From the topographical layer on iMaps, Western lies at approximately 278 feet above sea level when it crosses Saunders. From there, it rises slightly to around 284 feet at the McDowell/Dawson interchange, and subsequently drops down to 264 feet at the intersection with Fayetteville St. (the disconnected portion, just west of the railroad bridge)
McDowell/Dawson sit at about 260 feet as they go under the interchange. That’s a ~25 foot difference between the bridge and the road beneath, but MLK is at nearly the same elevation just down the street.

To me, it seems feasible to rebuild Western/MLK to a lower elevation where they cross McDowell/Dawson, and to simultaneously raise McDowell/Dawson to connect with a surface level intersection.

Now, this would be a lot of work for arguably little benefit, so unless a few of the surrounding properties (Heritage Park?) and the space freed up by removing the interchange were leveraged to promote new development, it’s a rather unlikely undertaking.


I don’t even think this is on anyone’s radar but it’s nice to speculate on. If you were able to reduce the footprint of the interchange specifically the exits that abut Heritage Park and Washington Elem both of those properties could be redeveloped in ways that preserve their current missions and add other elements. Additionally, if the Heritage Park parcel were expanded and redeveloped West St could conceivable be extended through the property and met up with Western.

That’s a case of cans of worms that will probably never happen or even be considered to happen but it’s interesting to speculate about and envision.

Some of us went down this path to no avail on the Capital bridge over Peace, and that grade difference would have been really easy to align, and it was only one bridge. I think that, as others have said, our best hope is to reduce the footprint of the interchange. Even then, trying to compel the rebuild an interchange that is nowhere near the end of its useful life is probably a frustratingly huge ordeal.
IMO, in the perfect world, neither Peace/US401 nor MLK/US401 would be overpass interchanges.


There will come a day where all the wasted space at the southern edge of downtown is too valuable to remain wasted and change will come but I’m pretty sure I won’t still be around to see it and I’m not even that old.

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I think that the biggest challenge to these interchanges, as we learned with Capital & Peace, is that they involve a designated US highway that is controlled at the state level.
Unless I live to be in my 90s, I doubt that I’ll ever see the demolition of these bridges.

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Sure the materials are not fatigued yet, but as far as I am concerned it was at the end of its useful life the day it was completed.

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I have seen this in a number of cities. Where in the 70’s & 80’s, the main goal of the city planners was to get motorized traffic in and out of the cities as quickly as possible. Much like this interchange. And while it does it’s purpose, it is to the detriment of the city overall.

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I understand it takes up space, and can definitely see that being an issue someday, but right now there is so much available development space between there and Peace that I can’t see changing those interchanges as necessary right now. What’s the point of taking out something for empty lots to sit for decades? Or worse yet, they get filled with low rise, 3 story apartment complexes.

I know a lot of empty space in DTR have proposals floating around out there, but I’ve learned enough to know that until ground is broken, those buildings are just theoretical. I wouldn’t be surprised if we only ever actually see half of the 20 story buildings that are in various planning stages. We shall see, but I’m skeptical on about a half a dozen proposed buildings actually ever getting built.

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To me, 400 blocks of proper urban form filled with 3 story buildings in proper urban orientation is much better than 40 blocks filled with high-rises surrounded by limited access interchanges. So, yes, filling the space with walkable, mixed urban use 3 story buildings is 1000 percent better than the interchange that saves perhaps 1 minute on peoples commute on Saunders and none on Western/MK. In short, expanding the grid is always my preferred option. Letting a mistake persist because money was spent on it, is no reason to let the mistake persist.


Here is my concept for the MLK/Saunders interchange area:

Major notes:

  1. The entirety of Western Boulevard, all the way from West Raleigh, is renamed to MLK.
  2. The MLK/Saunders interchange is reconfigured to a tight urban diamond. This will have a modest, but probably manageable, impact on traffic operations.
  3. The section of South Saunders south of Dorothea Drive is completely demapped and replaced with a grid by extending existing streets through the area.
  4. Lake Wheeler Road is connected through to West Street via a new traffic signal on MLK, and this becomes the vehicular link between Downtown and Fuller Heights/Dix.
  5. Lake Wheeler is raised on a bridge over Rocky Branch which allows the greenway to pass under, and lifts the oft-flooded street out of the flood plain.
  6. The bridge where South Saunders crosses under MLK is repurposed for pedestrian use only, and becomes a major focal point linking between Dix and Downtown.

I am sure all of the businesses along Western Blvd won’t mind the expenditure and inconvenience of having to change their addresses. Besides MLKJr Blvd addressing runs eastward and Western Blvd addressing runs westward. And the addresses would then overlap which is a big no for 911. So probably would have to have an East and West MLKJr Blvd. Would also have to redo all the street signage so that would be a significant cost to the city. The rest of your points sounds okay to me though.

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So would new Lake Wheeler go over western/west MLK ?

MLK/Lake Wheeler would be an at grade intersection with a traffic light.

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It’s not free and it’s not without inconvenience but it’s all been done before and is in fact pretty routine. I certainly expect the new Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard would be divided between East and West. I guess the dividing point would be the intersection with Fayetteville Street? Or would it be Wilmington Street?


In fact it is not pretty routine. I know of all road renaming and readdressing that goes on in Wake County and it does not happen all that often. Raleigh does it rarely. It is actually a very long laborious tedious thing to accomplish and requires careful coordination among all private and governmental agencies that need to know about these changes (it’s a state maintained road also so NCDOT would need to approve). Currently the MKLJr addressing starts right at the interchange. Basically few addresses would change but all of MLKJr and Western Blvd would receive street name changes.


I guess I was too liberal with the term “routine”. But if any street renaming could be expected to move through without much controversy, it is a renaming in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. (As it did in Chapel Hill back in 2005.) I am actually surprised that no such renaming was pursued when the current segment of MLK was created back in 1992ish, or when it was connected to Western in 1997, especially since the name Western Boulevard is not commemorative of anything in particular.


One more thought on the idea of this renaming: why would the eastern half need to be renamed at all? Ample precedent exists here in Raleigh: Tryon Road has East Tryon Road and… Tryon Road. This wouldn’t be any more confusing. In addition, electronic/online mapping systems have ways of storing alternate street names and using them in searches. For any such renaming, the map providers could be expected to keep Western Boulevard as an alternate name. Likewise, East MLK could be an alternate name, with the East being implied if no direction is given, which is exactly how Google Maps handles it if you search for, for example, 2200 West Tryon Road.

Anyway the renaming is just one part of the proposal above, and the rest could still move forward even without it. Any thoughts on the rest?

I can imagine de-mapping South Saunders would be controversial, but I have a hard time seeing those low slung 1 story brick/block industrial buildings as a critical part of Raleigh’s architectural heritage.


Remember folks that Western/MLK isn’t the only place where roads weren’t renamed. If you jump onto Blue Ridge Road at Western Blvd and head north, it will change to Duraleigh, then to W.Millbrook, then to E. Millbrook, then to N. New Hope, then to S. New Hope, then to Jones Sausage, then to White Oak Rd, and finally to Cornwallis, before it ends south of Garner near Willow Springs.


You would have to rename because of duplicate addresses that would result of changing Western to MLKJr. And technically, it would also be a name change from MLKJr Blvd to E MLKJR Blvd. For 911 purposes involving Fire, EMS, and Police it would need to be absolutely clear which one they needed to be going to. Alternate names don’t work too well and in fact the current 911 system doesn’t do alternate names (but the new 911 system will be able to handle alternate names).

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The renaming is just a suggestion. What about the other suggestions regarding the interchange?