The proposed Wake County Transit Plan won unanimous approval Wednesday from the first of three local boards that will decide whether to ask voters in November to levy a special half-cent sales tax, which would help finance a $2.3 billion investment in commuter trains and beefed-up bus service.
The CAMPO executive board – mayors and town council members who set transportation priorities for Wake and parts of neighboring counties – endorsed the plan after a public hearing in which more than 30 speakers had mostly good things to say about it.
The heaviest improvements would be focused in high-traffic zones through central Raleigh and Cary. But the mayor of one outlying town said she was confident that Wake’s smaller communities also will benefit in the years ahead.
“I think there is some concern in outlying communities,” said Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones. “But this is the beginning of a transit program in Wake County, and I expect that as we go forward, it will become even more robust for the outlying communities as well as Raleigh and Cary and the inner core. I am expecting that and I will continue to push for that to happen.”
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The plan starts with buses – more frequent service, more hours of the day and night, and on new routes that would provide the first transit links to some towns. Planners say it would quadruple transit ridership in Wake County by 2027. 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.
Wake also would aim to partner with Durham County to launch 37 miles of rush-hour commuter trains from Durham through Research Triangle Park to Morrisville, Cary, Raleigh and Garner.
The board of GoTriangle, the regional planning and bus service agency formerly known as Triangle Transit, is expected to approve Wake’s transit plan next week. The Wake County commissioners also are expected to vote their approval on June 6.
“I am very much against subsidy,” said Robert Fuller of Raleigh. “If it is needed and makes sense, an entrepreneur will get it done.”
But the critics were outnumbered by environmentalists, technology executives and young adults who don’t like to drive cars.
“Millennials like myself ... expect public transit systems in their areas,” said Kristin Athens of Apex, a 25-year-old law student. “Millennials expect to be able to shop, eat, be entertained and receive apartment housing all in one walkable or bikable place, which the transit plan fully facilitates.”
Other speakers said better transit will stimulate economic development.
“I have hundreds of clients that are small businesses that hire thousands of people throughout the area, and transit is a large piece of our ability to be competitive and grow,” said Nathan Spencer, a MassMutual executive.
Funding Wake’s Transit Plan
Some of the expected funding sources, 2017-2027:
▪ $962 million half-cent transit sales tax.
▪ $720 million federal funds (half the capital cost for commuter trains and bus rapid transit).
▪ $512 million bond proceeds.
▪ $112 million passenger fares.
▪ $95 million car registration fees.
▪ $41 million rental car tax.
▪ $14 million state bus funds.