Youre familiar with the mystery traffic jam. You inch along bumper-to-bumper and when traffic finally flows, you cant see why it stopped. Theres no sign of an accident or construction.
Often, its just a case of too many vehicles on the road at once.
The Triangle could see more of these bottlenecks as the regions population and traffic grow faster than its roads. But the cause of those slowdowns, though invisible, may not be mysterious. It may be traceable to whats happening today a quartet of Republican Wake County commissioners standing in the way of expanded Triangle transit options.
On Tuesday, farsighted Orange County voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase that will expand the countys bus service and start collecting dollars for light rail projects. In Durham County, voters gave a green light to a similar plan last year. But in Wake County, the Triangles most populous county, a proposed $3 billion, 25-year transit plan and the half-cent tax to support it hasnt been able to find a place on the commissioners agenda, let alone the ballot.
The Wake Transit Plan calls for roughly doubling the existing bus service as its initial phase. It would launch rush-hour commuter trains from Durham through Research Triangle Park and Raleigh to Garner, and eventually start light rail service with a line from northeast Raleigh through downtown Raleigh to Cary.
The four-member majority on Wakes Board of Commissioners has refused to set a hearing on the plan. Theyve held it off the agenda for months by asking the plans proponents to answer to a long list of questions. Some of the questions have come from the John Locke Foundation, a conservative-libertarian group so adverse to paying for mass transit it might be more accurately called the Gridlock Foundation.
Supporters of mass transit have responded with a thick stack of documentation. It has been greeted with inaction.
The Republican commissioners reluctance reflects their opposition to tax increases and their suspicion that expanded mass transit would be an overly subsidized, liberal indulgence in the suburban, car-centric Triangle. But as other Triangle counties go forward, it is their delay thats becoming the ideological indulgence. Its costing Wake County in dollars and lost time to forgo linking to the transit web emerging to its west.
Expanding transit isnt an exercise in spendthrift, utopian engineering. Its a practical response to a vital need. Its favored by almost all of Wakes 12 municipalities and the regions big employers. They want it to be easier for their residents and employees to get to work where they can do something more productive than sit in traffic.
Tuesdays election, in which the two contested Wake commissioner races were won by Democrats who are transit supporters, signals that voters are at least open-minded on the issue. Its time for the commissioners board to give the plan a hearing that could lead to a transit tax referendum next year. Wake voters deserve a chance to decide whether they want to pay a little more today to make it easier to get around the Triangle tomorrow.