As Wake County revamps its transit plan – and is forced to wait until 2016 to vote on a tax increase to fund it – Garner remains in limbo. And while the commuter rail generates much of the conversation and debate, a number of aspects of expanded bus service rest on the tax increase for funding as well.
The town wants expanded bus service, but the question becomes how to pay for it. The town would have to contract with regional transit providers, paid for with either county-wide new revenue or town contributions going to Garner-centric advances.
“We’ve certainly had expanding bus service on our mind,” assistant town manager Rodney Dickerson said. “County stake holders and municipalities are looking at the plans, tweaking for updates, and hopefully that will give us a little more clear picture.”
Garner will see some expanded service this January as the Fortify project continues to roll along. Peak commuter trips between Forest Hills Shopping Center, White Oak Shopping Center and downtown Raleigh will offer an alternative as the Department of Transportation rebuilds more of I-40.
But that temporary fix still leaves limited bus service with just a few trips into and out of downtown each workday.
The Capital Area Transit short-range plan suggests lengthening the No. 7 Saunders bus line, extending it through downtown Garner and White Oak. It also recommends increasing the frequency of that run from every 30 minutes to every 15. Currently the route only extends to near the WalMart on U.S. 401.
But the City of Raleigh, which runs CAT, does not intend to pay for that by itself, and Garner currently does not have plans to fund it either. Based on comments from both sides, it appears a county tax increase would have to fund the upgrades.
“Unless the transit tax passes, transit services are pretty much going to be what they are today,” town manager Hardin Watkins said.
That extension has been suggested in multiple transit plans over the years. The county is currently undergoing another re-fresh of its transit plans and goals and has been interviewing consultants in order to pick one to update the plans.
Other municipalities have begun funding expanded bus service. Wake Forest, for example, funds expanded service in its area that is operated by CAT. It pays about $332,800 per year to fund an hourly loop around its downtown that then encircles a broader part of Wake Forest from early morning until about 8 p.m. It also links up with an already existing express with downtown Raleigh, one with similar service patterns as the one proposed for Garner and the Johnston County Express now operating between the Walmart on N.C. 42 in Cleveland and downtown Raleigh.
Whatever happens, Garner staff hopes for more opportunities to connect Garner with buses, as well as trains eventually. Watkins said he and planning director Brad Bass have been involved in a number of the discussions. One possible funding source absent a county-voted tax increase could come from vehicle registration taxes. But Watkins said so far no concrete plan has been presented to the town regarding funding an extended bus line.
“Brad and I thought (the transit plan) was a good plan. The take Brad and I had on it was the more transit options there were for Garner the better it is for Garner,” Watkins said.