Well, so much for the credibility of the most recent panel discussion on the future of transit in the Triangle. Following an energetic, well-attended gathering at Marbles kids museum in downtown Raleigh early in November at which community leaders and experts touted the virtues of rapid buses, light rail and commuter trains Republican Wake County commissioners answered with a meeting of their own.
They had experts come in and assess the transit situation and lead a public discussion, also at Marbles. But thanks to Mary Newsom, a former Charlotte Observer editor now with UNC-Charlottes Urban Institute, the experts inclinations against light rail and commuter rail options were shown to be predictable.
Newsom wrote that one of those experts, Sam Staley, is connected to the Reason Foundation, a think-tank whose board members include oil industry titan David Koch, an ultraconservative political activist and contributor. And Steve Polzin of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, Newsom wrote, represents a center long opposed to rail travel.
The GOP commissioners, including Chairman Joe Bryan and Paul Coble, got exactly what they wanted from their experts, a conclusion that the Triangle isnt big enough to justify light rail and commuter rail. A pro-transit meeting a few days before theirs was standing-room-only and included some of the communitys most prominent civic leaders.
But Coble and Bryan dont want to allow the public to vote on whether to establish a small sales tax increase and to join Orange and Durham counties in working toward a viable transit system together. Its fair for them to raise concerns about taxes. But their meeting seemed designed to strengthen the reasons for their opposition, not to learn more about transit.
A give-and-take dialogue would be better. Instead, it seems to be more about Republicans finding ways to put the brakes on transit advances.