Wake County is developing a bus system that works like light rail

Transit planners in Wake County are seeking feedback on plans for four bus rapid transit lines that would be built in phases between 2022 and 2027.
Transit planners in Wake County are seeking feedback on plans for four bus rapid transit lines that would be built in phases between 2022 and 2027.

While Durham and Chapel Hill push ahead with the region's first light-rail line, transit planners in Wake County have begun sketching out a system that brings some of the features of light rail to buses.

GoTriangle and the two local bus systems, GoRaleigh and GoCary, are planning four bus rapid transit lines that radiate from downtown Raleigh. With bus rapid transit, or BRT, buses drive unimpeded on exclusive lanes and stop at stations with roofs, platforms and kiosks where passengers can buy tickets before the bus arrives.

Wake County voters signed off on the idea when they approved a half-cent sales tax increase to finance transit in the fall of 2016. Bus rapid transit was a prominent part of the Wake Transit Plan, a 10-year, $2.3 billion effort that also calls for more frequent traditional bus service and development of a commuter rail line from Garner through Raleigh, Cary and Research Triangle Park to Durham.

There are various forms of bus rapid transit operating or under construction in about three dozen cities, and more are in the works. Transit agencies are attracted to BRT because they're easier and cheaper to build than rail and more flexible; the buses that run on a BRT line can often run over regular streets as well.

Until now, BRT has been an abstract concept in Wake. But in a series of public meetings and events, transit planners are presenting a basic plan and trying to get some feedback and ideas to help them refine it. The first meeting was Monday night in Garner.

The plan now calls for about 20 miles of bus rapid transit in four lines from downtown Raleigh: one east to WakeMed, one north on Capital Boulevard, one south toward Garner and one west to Cary. Some of the routes are logical (New Bern Avenue to WakeMed, for example), but in some cases, there are options to sort out. Should the BRT line to Garner follow South Wilmington Street out of downtown Raleigh or South Saunders — or both?

Planners have also identified general areas for station stops but not specific locations, said David Eatman, Raleigh's transit administrator. They also want to hear which lines people think should be built first, Eatman said.

"The public will be able to comment on all of the different aspects of our implementation," he said.

The Wake Transit Plan calls for building the lines in stages, beginning in 2022. Planners expect all four routes to be running by 2027.

The public can see and comment on the plans at three upcoming meetings: Thursday, May 3, at the GoRaleigh Operations Center, 4104 Poole Road in Raleigh; May 14 at WakeMed Andrews Conference Center, 3024 New Bern Ave. in Raleigh; and May 15 in the Paul Cooper Room at the Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave. in Cary. People can drop by anytime between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Representatives of the transit agencies will also present the plans at transit stations and community events in the coming weeks, including PeakFest in Apex, Six Sundays in Spring in Wake Forest, Artsplosure in Raleigh, Ritmo Latino in Cary, SpringFest in Morrisville and Food Truck Thursday in Knightdale.

For more information, go to goforwardnc.org/wake. To provide feedback online, go to www.publicinput.com/waketransit.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling