Two area mayors are among the 10 Wake County mayors who have endorsed the proposed Wake County Transit Plan, including one who is highly involved in the countywide campaign to push the plan.
Knightdale Mayor James Roberson is one of four co-chairs of the Moving Wake County Forward Campaign, which is working to build support among voters for the half-cent sales tax increase referendum necessary to fund the plan. Voters will have the chance to decide the fate of the plan when they go to the polls Nov. 8.
Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny has also come out in favor of the plan. Wendell Mayor Ginna Gray has not endorsed it but has not taken a stand against it. Apex Mayor Lance Olive is the only other mayor of the 12 Wake municipalities who has not endorsed it.
“I just can’t jump on the bandwagon,” Gray said. “I would rather people look into it and make their own decision. That’s what this country is all about, isn’t it?”
Gray said she had concerns that the plan doesn’t do enough specifically for Wendell and eastern Wake. “I think some of the outlying towns are going to bear the financial burden and not get the benefits, she said. “Really our status quo is going to stay the same.”
But Roberson and Matheny disagree, both saying the enhanced bus service passage the plan would bring to the area would have major benefits.
“Most importantly, folks will have options in terms of how they travel,” Roberson said.
The $2.3 billion plan would increase bus service across the county and, through a partnership with Durham County, launch a commuter-rail line that would run from Durham, through Research Triangle Park to Morrisville, Cary, Raleigh and Garner. The 37-mile line is to open by 2027.
Improvements to bus service would be more immediate, with more frequent service, more hours of the day and night, and on new routes that would provide the first transit links to some towns. Twenty miles of bus rapid transit (BRT) service – deluxe buses with some of the amenities of trains – would be built along major north, south, east and west streets through downtown Raleigh.
Plans call for Wake’s commuter-rail line, powered by diesel, to link up in downtown Durham with a 17-mile light-rail line, powered by electricity, that would run from Durham to Chapel Hill. A move by the legislature that capped state funding for light-rail or commuter-rail projects at 10 percent of the total was an initial setback to the Durham-to-Chapel-Hill project, as the state was to have provided 25 percent of the funding. Planners, however, say they will still be able to get it financed. The Wake commuter rail does not rely on state funding.
Driving simply is not possible for many Knightdale citizens, Roberson said, noting some seniors and poorer residents just can’t afford to own a car. The plan beefs up options for these people. Roberson pointed to the numerous seniors who live in workforce housing across from Hodge Road Elementary and are 3 miles from the nearest grocery store.
Roberson also noted that many economically disadvantaged Knightdale citizens would benefit from easier access to the Wake County Eastern Regional Center in Zebulon. “There’s a need for Knightdale citizens to get out there,” he said, “but right now we don’t have adequate transportation to get to Wendell and Zebulon.”
A dean at Wake Technical Community College, Roberson also sees the plan as opening up educational opportunities for people who want to go to one of the region’s many colleges but don’t have transportation. “Education and economic development are intertwined,” he said. “You can’t do one without the other.”
Matheny also believes that even without commuter rail coming into his town as it would for some Wake municipalities, the enhanced bus service makes the plan worthwhile for Zebulon. “I realize we’re not ready for rail,” he said, “but we could benefit from increased bus service, and sometime down the road we will be ready for rail. I just think we need to be a part of the county and not isolate ourselves.”
Part of the plan includes county funding matches for added bus service for towns or groups of towns that want a particular service and are willing to put up half the money. Matheny said he would like to see a circulator route that would travel between Zebulon, Wendell and Knightdale.
No plan B
Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson, whose district includes eastern Wake, has been a big backer of the plan as well, coming out to area town councils to lobby for support. “Even in Wendell, Knightdale and Zebulon we’re seeing growth and congestion,” he said. “64 Bypass is going to become as congested as Capital Boulevard at some point.”
Hutchinson said that if the sales tax referendum does not pass, the forces that have aligned to get the plan this far will fall apart. “There is no plan B,” he said. “The legislature gives us the authority to do this, and they can also take it away, which they have tried to do, and I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t try again. As far as we’re concerned, we have one shot to do this and that’s it.”
The half-cent sales tax is expected to bring in $962 million for transit between 2017 and 2027. Other funding for the plan would include $720 million in federal funds, $512 million in bond proceeds, $112 million from passenger fares, $95 million from car registration fees, $41 million from a rental car tax and $14 in state bus funds.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826