Wake County

Wake faces choices about buses and trains

In public meetings starting Monday night, Wake County residents will get their first look at maps with four possible scenarios for future investment in a county transit network.

The four scenarios offer two sets of choices:

▪ Should bus service be spread over the broadest coverage area possible – or concentrated on busy, high-frequency routes that would serve the most riders?

▪ Should trains be part of the transit system – or should it be built entirely with standard buses and bus rapid transit (BRT) service?

The final choice will probably be a blend of these ideas. The coverage and ridership scenarios represent extremes – one with infrequent service spread thinly across the map, the other with heavy service concentrated in Raleigh. Transit planners figure we’ll end up combining elements of both. We could also end up with a mix of trains and BRT.

Two scenarios feature networks built around a spine of train service called rail rapid transit. Trains run every 15 minutes along the N.C. Railroad corridor from Research Triangle Park to downtown Raleigh, passing through Morrisville, Cary and N.C. State University. And trains run every 30 minutes in the CSX rail corridor that follows Capital Boulevard from downtown to the northern Beltline.

The other two options replace trains with bus rapid transit. These deluxe rubber-tire buses share some of the advantages and amenities of rail transit, at about half the capital cost. The BRT lines run either in exclusive bus lanes or in mixed traffic along N.C. 54, Capital and Western boulevards and New Bern Avenue – and, in one option, also on South Wilmington Street – every 15 minutes or better.

The heavy ridership scenarios run buses every 15 minutes or better in these corridors: Glascock, Martin Luther King, Glenwood, Falls of Neuse, South Saunders, Oberlin, Hillsborough, Clark, St. Albans-Yonkers, and Blue Ridge. Other routes get buses every 30 or 60 minutes, and there are rush-hour express buses for outlying towns.

The broad coverage scenarios add only small amounts of 15-minute frequency buses with a more spread-out service map for routes with 30- and 60-minute service. Regular routes run every hour from Raleigh and Cary to outlying towns.

What kind of trains are we talking about? Electric-powered light rail is out, because it is too costly and inflexible. Now we’re looking at diesel-multiple units (DMUs), with each rail car powered by its own diesel engine and traveling on standard tracks. If Wake and Durham counties eventually launch a proposed service for rush-hour trains from Durham through RTP to Garner, it will be with DMUs.

What are the capital costs? The BRT plans are estimated to cost about $500 million, with funding sources to include a 35 percent federal share. The rapid rail plans have a capital cost estimated at $1 billion with plans to seek a federal share of about 21 percent. Under current legislative funding formulas, Wake could hope for $20 million to help with capital costs.

What are the estimated operating costs? The two BRT scenarios are expected to cost $60 million to $66 million a year to operate, and the two rail scenario costs range from $93 million to $102 million.

What happens next? Residents are invited to learn about the transit scenarios and share their preferences at five public meetings this week and two more next week. More information and opportunity for comment can be found online at www.waketransit.com. Transit planners will make presentations to civic groups and other audiences across the county through the summer with an eye toward distilling public input into a final recommendation that will be presented in September or October.

The Wake County commissioners are expected to endorse a transit plan after two other boards give their approval. The commissioners will also schedule a referendum for sometime in 2016 on a half-cent sales tax that would help pay for the new service. Local sales tax collections could start in 2017 with bus expansion beginning soon after. Transit planners – always optimistic – aim to have trains or BRT rolling by 2026.

‘Choose Our Transit’ events start Monday

The four transit scenarios with maps and more details will be unveiled at seven public meetings, each event starting at 6 p.m.

Monday: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh

Wednesday: Garner Senior Center, 205 E. Garner Road, Garner

Wednesday: Wake Forest Town Hall, 301 S. Brooks St., Wake Forest

Wednesday: Wendell Community Center, 601 W. Third St., Wendell

Thursday: Holly Springs Cultural Center, 300 W. Ballentine St., Holly Springs

May 19: The Cary Theater, 122 E. Chatham St., Cary

May 20: GoRaleigh Transit Operations Facility, 4014 Poole Road, Raleigh