Three outsiders will help Wake County find its transit path

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comOctober 9, 2013 

— Denver’s former transit chief and two Florida-based scholars will make up an independent panel invited to help the Wake County commissioners work out their plans for public transportation.

County Manager David Cooke announced his picks Tuesday for the panel, which will meet with commissioners on Nov. 12. They are:

• Cal Marsella, a consultant who served as general manager of the Denver Regional Transportation District from 1995 to 2009.

• Steve E. Polzin, who directs a transit research program at the University of South Florida Center for Urban Transportation Research.

• Sam R. Staley, managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University and a senior research fellow at the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.

The Wake commissioners have gone two years without discussing a draft transit plan developed by Cooke and Triangle Transit, the regional bus service and planning agency. The Wake plan calls for a beefed up bus network across the county, rush-hour commuter trains from Durham to Garner, and a light-rail line from Cary through downtown Raleigh and north to Millbrook Road.

Orange and Durham county voters have approved their own bus and rail plans, along with a half-cent sales tax to help pay for them. But Wake commissioners have not discussed the issue since the fall of 2011.

Several board members have said that they oppose either the proposed transit sales tax or the plan’s rail components. Some business leaders have said recently that Wake should consider options for bus rapid transit service – which combines some of the speed and amenities of light rail with the flexibility and lower cost of standard bus routes.

Joe Bryan, the commissioners chairman, has said he wanted to get Tuesday’s successful school bond referendum out of the way before asking voters to consider a new transit tax. The panel named this week will help commissioners look at the Wake plan’s feasibility and settle questions about governance and finance.

“There's clearly work to be done to have a fully vetted plan to take to the public, with a lot of unanswered questions,” Bryan said. “So we'll take a fresh look.”

Polzin, an engineer, studies commuting and traffic trends and serves as vice chairman of a regional transit board in Tampa.

Marsella developed Denver’s transit network and launched three light rail lines. A commuter rail line under construction from Denver's airport to the town of Golden involved a team of private partners that designed, built and will operate the trains, Marsella said.

“We have a pretty remarkable story about how we developed our transit vision and how we are building it,” he said. “We used very innovative transit financing techniques.”

Staley writes about urban growth and land use.

“I will be bringing a market-oriented perspective and a focus on the customer,” Staley said. “We think about transit only in terms of moving people quickly. But the other part is: What can we do to make transit a viable option? Part of that is creating a travel environment that allows people to be productive and feel comfortable and safe.”

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or Twitter: @Road_Worrier

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