Congress should make a long-term commitment to increase spending for transportation and other infrastructure improvements, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Thursday, so that the Triangle and other high-growth communities can make plans to keep up with their needs.
Foxx spoke to about 100 civic and government representatives at the American Tobacco Campus, near the site of a proposed downtown stop for a planned 17-mile light-rail line connecting Durham and Chapel Hill. The light-rail plan is aimed at meeting the region’s needs in 2045, he said.
“Choose your future,” Foxx said. “Don’t plan your transportation system around 2015. You plan around 2015, and you’re already behind. Plan it for where the trends are going.”
Foxx is traveling the Southeast to promote the Obama administration’s “Grow America” proposal for $478 billion in highway, transit and other transportation spending over the next six years. The latest in a string of short-duration transportation spending programs is set to expire at the end of May.
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“The cumulative effect of the last six years of 32 short-term measures is that we’ve got a lot of deferred maintenance, we’ve got a lot of new capacity needs that aren’t getting met,” Foxx said. “And places like this that are fast-growing are going to be hit the hardest if we don’t get a long-term answer.”
Foxx, who was Charlotte’s mayor until he joined President Barack Obama’s Cabinet in 2013, began the day addressing an audience in Charlotte, where he was joined by Vice President Joe Biden. He spoke to transportation engineers and researchers at N.C. State University in Raleigh later Thursday afternoon.
Triangle Transit is developing plans for a light-rail line that would be anchored by UNC-Chapel Hill and its health center at one end and at the other end by Duke University and its health center, the Veterans Affairs Hospital and Durham’s fast-developing downtown.
A draft environmental impact statement on the project is expected to be released this fall.
Meanwhile, Wake County leaders are developing a transit plan that might include light-rail along with more bus service and commuter trains that would run at rush hour between Durham, Research Triangle Park, Raleigh and Garner.
“Introducing the idea of rail transit in this area is a very important element in providing the kind of choices people are going to need,” Foxx said.
He said widening crowded highways will help meet transportation needs in some parts of the country, but “it actually attracts more traffic. … And you may get temporary relief, but it won’t be permanent until you create release valves for that traffic.”