Wake County transit leaders presented four scenarios to the public last month of what a potential transit plan could look like in the county.
The plan was much different than the initial draft where it concerns Garner. The initial draft, which was made in 2010, had a commuter rail going through Garner, which would have been a benefit for the town’s growth. However, that option for Garner is no longer on the table in the newest set of options.
Understanding all the nuances of the plan, why the scenarios were chosen and how leaders will come to a decision that will benefit the whole county is hard to understand.
So we had a conversation with Tim Maloney, the Director of Wake County Planning, Development and Inspections, and one of the leaders of the project, to answer some of the tougher questions some may still have.
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Q: We heard that Garner will not have a commuter rail option in the first 10 years. Why can’t Garner be included in any plans for major rails within the first 10 years?
A: That could be explored in the first 10 years but it would require notable reductions elsewhere in the network. We are cost constrained, so something would have to be taken out in order for rail for Garner to be put in as consideration.
Q: What were the factors that were taken into account when looking at Garner?
A: Throughout the planning process, the project planners have looked at the same attributes for all areas and communities when designing the network options. Garner certainly has notable ridership and employment in the Fayettville, 70, 401 corridor, where the Go Raleigh bus runs today. However, remaining areas of Garner were not identified as high employment or residential density areas of great significance.
Q: What will happen in the 10-year plan?
A: All the four scenarios are intended to be constructed and finalized within that 10 years. However, we are the first to recognize and understand that it is an ambitious and challenging plan that we have to do it in that time frame. It’s really important to understand that there are a lot of challenges when putting rail in an existing corridor or BRT(bus rapid transit) in existing roadway. You have physical challenges, operational challenges, and financial challenges that have to be overcome. So assuming that everything goes perfectly – which may not be a safe assumption – it can be done.
Q: Under what circumstance can rail be a possibility in Garner after 10 years?
A: Assuming that rail is a technology that is in a recommended transit investment strategy, then certainly rail to Garner extending from Raleigh, would be a project for consideration, keeping in mind it would be evaluated against other significant infrastructure projects beyond that 10-year time frame.
Q: How will these transit options be paid for?
A: All of the options we have out there assume passage of a half-cent sales tax and a $10 increase in the vehicle registration fee. Voters would obviously have a direct say on the sales tax because that would go to a public referendum. And that would be the major funding source for transit moving forward.
Q: With different people wanting different things in Wake County, coverage versus ridership, how will you decide?
A: This is where our transit road show over the summer comes into play. We’re asking many people to engage in this process and provide us feedback either by participating in one of our regional meetings or public workshops. And also by going online to our website and taking out a survey and simply providing as much feedback as possible of what they think is best to serve our entire community in terms of a transit solution.
Q: What factors will guide the decision behind using bus rapid transit vs. rail rapid transit?
A: Community input, technical analysis and financial analysis as well.
Q: Can you explain the biggest difference between the four scenarios?
A: The bus rapid transit options explore solutions that have a lower cost infrastructure because it’s not as expensive as rail, which allows more money to go to network bus services, whereas a rail rapid transit option requires higher infrastructure costs. That would mean less money to be put toward your general bus service.
Q: What exactly do the four scenarios offer Garner?
A: The transit network improves in all four options for Garner. Span is the hours that the service operates. In the plans it will increase. It will provide service earlier in the morning and it will go later at night. And then in between all of that, the second element is frequency. Not only will the span be longer in Garner, the frequency will increase. So how often that vehicle arrives at a stop in Garner will also be increased for the corridors serving the Garner area.
Q: That kind of answers the next question, but how is that an improvement from the kind of bus service that is offered in Garner today?
A: So currently, there are two bus routes that serve Garner. The first one is a South Saunders route, which is funded by Go Raleigh, and it connects to shopping centers on Fayettville Road that extends into Garner. That bus runs every 30 minutes. The second route that goes Hammond Road, Timber Drive, Seventh Avenue to I-40; that is funded by Go Triangle. That circles through Garner connecting downtown Raleigh to the White Oak Shopping Center. This bus only runs at peak hours. Seven buses per day. It’s more toward commuter-type service. So both of those routes will increase in span and frequency.