RALEIGH — Wake County's population is growing by 100 people per day and is projected to double to 1.2 million by 2030. Raleigh and Cary are among the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the country. We need to plan well for our continuing population growth, in ways that will ensure the best possible quality of life for all of us for decades to come.
We will need infrastructure that supports our growth in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. High-speed rail is one of the transportation choices the Triangle needs to help meet our growing needs.
Mass transit is simply a must for a large metropolitan region. While high-speed rail is used differently than the regional transit system being planned (which include expanded bus service, light rail and commuter rail), we will also need high-speed rail to help us move people more efficiently.
High-speed rail is also a good choice to help protect our air quality; it reduces the number of cars on the road, lessening public health concerns and impacts on climate change. It's good for the economy and quality of life, as it will enhance cost-efficient transportation choices for business and individuals. We are a community on the move, with young people, aging Baby Boomers, professionals, commuters, people with disabilities and others asking for transportation options beyond the automobile.
Bringing high-speed rail to Raleigh and the Triangle will connect us better to the entire East Coast. Most of the industrialized world has long embraced high-speed rail, and it is no surprise that expanding rail systems nationwide was a priority in the federal stimulus package.
North Carolina and Virginia have worked on developing a Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor for years, and we are fortunate to have won federal funding for this project. In addition, the future local regional transit system will benefit from needed upgrades and rail-crossing improvements that will be funded with high-speed rail funds. In that way, the high-speed rail project will help us get a local transit system in place sooner.
As we expand our transportation services, safety and reducing environmental impacts must be of utmost importance. Fortunately, rail technology has improved vastly, and we expect that best practices and design excellence will be used to promote safety and to reduce noise and minimize other environmental effects. High-speed rail is a quieter, smoother and cleaner transportation system.
WakeUP Wake County strongly believes in the public process. Rail transportation can be successfully implemented only if public views are heard and taken into account in the critical process of selecting the best routes for the rail line. We are pleased that the public can comment through Friday on the environmental impacts of different proposed routes.
The state Department of Transportation should also keep the door open with neighborhoods. An impact on any neighborhood is truly unfortunate, and the DOT should choose the route that will have the least negative effects on the most people.
It's also vital that homeowners and businesses are fairly and promptly reimbursed for rail routes affecting their property. Mitigations are needed, for whatever route is chosen. We call upon the DOT to explain its proposed mitigations in addition to listening and taking into consideration the concerns of citizens.
While change can be hard, adding a modern high-speed rail system to our transit options is essential to meeting the needs of a major metropolitan area like the Triangle and our more than 1 million citizens. Mass transit is used by all major metropolitan areas of the nation and world, and we are fortunate we can plan now for years to come.
Karen Rindge is executive director of WakeUP Wake County (www.wakeupwakecounty.org).