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Free rides for teens and new bus routes are proposed in Raleigh and Wake County

GoRaleigh is proposing new routes and more frequent service using money generated by a half-cent sales tax to benefit Wake transit projects that voters approved in November 2016.
GoRaleigh is proposing new routes and more frequent service using money generated by a half-cent sales tax to benefit Wake transit projects that voters approved in November 2016. N&O file photo

GoRaleigh will create new bus routes, including the first to the N.C. Museum of Art, and teens 18 and younger will be able to ride public buses for free in Wake County under a proposed expansion of transit made possible by the half-cent transportation sales tax approved by Wake voters in late 2016.

The plan also calls for more frequent buses on popular GoTriangle express routes between Raleigh and Research Triangle Park, Durham and Chapel Hill and the first GoCary route to serve Weston Parkway and the Park West Village shopping center in Morrisville.

The proposed changes were developed using feedback through surveys and a series of public meetings last fall. Wake transit planners are now seeking feedback again, until March 12, on the new routes and other proposals, which would go into effect July 1.

Perhaps the most broad-reaching change would be the introduction of a “Youth Fare” pass, free to teens ages 13 to 18. The three local bus agencies – GoCary, GoRaleigh and GoTriangle – will work with schools along their routes to distribute the passes, which will also be available at GoRaleigh station, the Town of Cary finance department and the GoTriangle Regional Transit Center near RTP.

“We are excited that the draft work plan includes making transit more accessible to our younger residents by letting them ride free on GoRaleigh, GoCary and GoTriangle buses to school, jobs, museums or wherever they need to go,” Jessica Holmes, chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement. “With this initiative, we hope to cultivate life-long transit users who understand how a strong network improves the entire community.”

Most of the new bus routes would be in Raleigh, where GoRaleigh proposes to expand service in Southeast Raleigh with new and more frequent buses on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Poole, Barwell and Rock Quarry roads. In West Raleigh, GoRaleigh proposes new service along Blue Ridge and Edwards Mill roads that will connect Crabtree Valley Mall with Rex Hospital, the art museum, PNC Arena and the N.C. Fairgrounds.

The details of the proposed changes can be found at www.waketransit.com/fy19workplan/. To comment, send an email to info@waketransit.com or mail them to GoTriangle, Attn. Ashley Hooper, P.O. Box 13787, Research Triangle Park, N.C. 27709. Later this spring, the public again will be invited to weigh in on the plan at hearings before it goes to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and GoTriangle boards for approval.

The changes are part of new and more frequent bus service made possible by an increase in the local sales tax that voters approved in November 2016 and that went into effect April 1, 2017. The tax is expected to generate $86.7 million in the year beginning July 1; combined with existing taxes on rental cars and vehicle registration, Wake will have a little more than $100 million in the coming year to put toward the Wake Transit Plan, a 10-year effort to improve mass transit in a county that is growing by more than 60 residents per day.

Aside from improvements in bus service, the transit plan has two other centerpieces. The first is to build about 20 miles of bus rapid transit lanes on portions of New Bern Avenue, Capital Boulevard, South Wilmington Street and Western Boulevard. The dedicated lanes allow buses to move past sluggish traffic and give riders covered platforms from which to get on and off the bus.

The second is to begin commuter rail service on existing railroad tracks on a 37-mile route from Garner to downtown Raleigh, N.C. State University, Cary, Morrisville, Research Triangle Park and on to Durham.

The Wake Transit Plan was developed by representatives of Wake County, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, GoTriangle, the city of Raleigh, the town of Cary, N.C. State University and the Research Triangle Foundation. For information on the plan, go to www.waketransit.com/.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

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