It's time to roll on transit in Wake County

October 26, 2013 

  • If you go

    When: Nov. 7, 4 to 6 p.m. followed by a reception.

    Where: Marbles Museum, 201 E. Hargett St., Raleigh

    Admission: $50, $35 for WakeUp supporters

    Keynote address: Will Shroeer, director of infrastructure for economic development, Minneapolis-St. Paul Chamber of Commerce

    More information: karen@wakeupwakecounty or 828-3833

To lead is, by definition, to look ahead. Such leadership is especially important when it comes to transportation. Acquiring rights of way, building tracks and stations and buying buses and trains are expensive investments that meet a need that is anticipated but not obvious.

In Wake County, that leadership has been noticeably lacking. Republicans who control the Board of Commissioners have largely ignored a now 2-year-old study that outlines how mass transit can be improved throughout the county and the Triangle. Their lack of action means time has been lost and the cost of any eventual construction will be higher.

Now, instead of acting, the board – with Commissioner Paul Coble in the lead – is calling for further study. The commissioners are scheduled to hear from a group of transportation consultants at a work session Nov. 12. Meanwhile, some are calling for shrinking the ambitious scope of the transit plan and settling for adding rapid transit buses running in special lanes.

Delaying decisions and shrinking the transit plan cannot be options. The Triangle is one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation. The need for transit alternatives is growing even faster. Durham and Orange counties recognize the need and have approved a half-cent sales tax to support transit improvements.

Wake County, the largest and richest county and the one that should be leading the Triangle forward, has instead held back progress toward an ambitious transit system that matches the need and the status of an area admired for its quality of life.

Coble and other Republican commissioners are skeptical about the number of commuters who might ride a train and eventually a light rail system. And they are leery of the cost, with Wake County spending hundreds of millions of dollars along with large federal grants. Their concerns are understandable, but they’ve had two years to weigh them.

Now it’s time to let voters decide. The transit plan’s vision of expanded bus service, a commuter rail linking Durham, RTP, Cary, Raleigh and Garner and light rail connecting much of Raleigh and Cary should be put before Wake voters in November 2014.

Polls indicate most county residents support the new systems. All that’s needed is for county commissioners to approve putting a proposed half-cent sales tax on the ballot.

Only obstructionism will keep this from happening. Almost all of Wake’s mayors support the transit plan. RTP officials say it is crucial to the park’s further development. It would help move students and employees at area universities. It would be used by hospital, public school and state employees. It would offer an alternative to rush hour jams on I-40 and in Wake’s urban areas.

But more than moving people, a transit system that includes buses, trains and light rail would move Wake County and the Triangle forward. Denser urban development would shape itself around the transportation systems. That is the type of development a younger generation of newcomers wants. If the region wants to prosper, it’s going to have to offer more than suburban sprawl linked by traffic-choked highways. Light rail has been a boon to Charlotte, a city where many had the same reservations holding back a system here.

While the county commissioners delay, residents and some businesses are pushing for bold steps on transit. WakeUP Wake County, the Triangle chapter of Advancing Women in Transportation and Capital Area Friends of Transit are hosting “A community summit on transit” in Raleigh. It’s aimed at business people who are concerned about how their employees and their customers will get around in an increasingly crowded Triangle.

It’s good to see concerned residents moving on transit. It’s time for Wake commissioners to get on board, too.

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