Editorial

Commuters making tracks

December 6, 2012 

Say this much for the state transportation wizards who by next summer will have turned the highway loop around Raleigh’s southern edge into an orange barreled snarl-a-thon: They’re giving fair warning, and they’re looking for ways to mitigate the disruption caused by a total roadway overhaul.

DOT officials are giving employers whose people rely on the I-40 corridor some pointed advice: Look hard at making work hours more flexible, or the traffic crunch descending on the southern Beltline will combine painfully lengthened commutes with office chaos. Staggered hours, not to mention telecommuting, never looked more sensible.

Alternate routes for both local and through travelers are being plotted; expect back roads between I-40 East and I-540 to enjoy a popularity surge among folks coming up out of Johnston County and heading for Research Triangle Park or points west.

But as The N&O’s Bruce Siceloff reported Wednesday, the DOT hopes to give some of those residents of fast-growing Johnston commuting options that will let them avoid some of the pending traffic jams altogether.

Building on a concept already being considered by Triangle-area transit planners, DOT is exploring commuter rail service along the N.C. Railroad corridor that now cuts through the region. Temporary platforms could serve Garner and Clayton, for example, on a route extending southeast to the current Amtrak depot in Selma.

As always with rail transit proposals, there’s the challenge of getting people from the station to their workplace if it’s too far to walk. Coordination with the area’s bus agencies would be essential. And Norfolk Southern, which leases the N.C. Railroad line for freight service, would have to be amenable to further sharing of the tracks.

These are issues that would have to be resolved at some point anyway, if commuter rail is to become part of the region’s transit picture. Getting a jump on them could help make life easier for people trying to get back and forth to work while I-40 through Raleigh gets its three-year pavement makeover. Patience will be tested, but careful planning now will help see us through.

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