Wake County voters agreed to raise the sales tax to expand public transit options.
With all precincts reporting, about 53 percent of voters supported a referendum to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to help pay for a 10-year, $2.3 billion plan to add commuter rail and increase bus service throughout the county.
Wake’s Board of Commissioners decided earlier this year to put the referendum on the ballot. Board members have said the tax hike is worth it to potentially reduce traffic congestion and improve connectivity.
Commissioner Matt Calabria said the county’s support for the referendum showed that Wake is a “forward-thinking” community.
“You can’t be a world-class region unless you have strong infrastructure. Voters showed tonight that we want to continue to stay ahead of the curve,” Calabria said. “Our future and our children's future will be brighter for what we did today.”
The referendum’s approval would give GoTriangle, a regional transportation authority and provider, permission to raise the sales tax rate to 2.5 percent from 2 percent, the current level. The state government levies a 4.75 sales tax rate.
The referendum also enables the county and GoTriangle to apply for state and federal grants, which will help fund the plan.
The Wake Transit Plan calls on the county to build a commuter rail system between Garner and Durham with stops at N.C. State University, downtown Cary, Research Triangle Park, Morrisville near RDU International Airport and Duke University in Durham.
The plan also aims to introduce Bus Rapid Transit, which runs buses in dedicated lanes and gives them priority at traffic signals. BRT buses would mostly run along four main corridors in Raleigh’s core: Western Boulevard, Capital Boulevard, New Bern Avenue and Wilmington Street. They would also connect to downtown Cary, WakeMed Raleigh and the Tryon Road-U.S. 401 intersection near Garner.
The transit plan and the associated referendum have been a political issue for years.
Democrats won full control of the county board in 2014 on the promise that they’d boost funding for public schools and expand Wake’s transit options. Republicans who previously controlled the board hesitated to put a referendum on the ballot, saying Wake isn’t dense enough to warrant the needed spending.
A previous proposal excluded BRT and included light rail – which features faster trains than commuter rail.
The Wake County Republican Party, Wake County Taxpayers Association, John Locke Foundation and at least one local mayor oppose the referendum. But the changes were enough to draw support from the Regional Transportation Alliance, which opposed the previous plan, as well as 75 other organizations and businesses.
“The result of today’s vote and the efforts of a large, diverse coalition of organizations and businesses will be a profound, positive impact on the economy, connectivity, and quality of our lives in Wake County and the Triangle,” said Karen Rindge, executive director of WakeUP Wake County, which supported the referendum.
202 of 202 precincts reporting