Wake County hopes for state help

Keeping the water at Jordan Lake clean should be a priority for Republicans in the General Assembly.
Keeping the water at Jordan Lake clean should be a priority for Republicans in the General Assembly. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Wake County leaders are right to aim high when it comes to asking for help from the Republican-led General Assembly in two areas of vital importance: putting in water protection rules for Jordan and Falls lakes and getting more financial support for regional rail projects. These are vital issues in Wake County, and lest GOP leaders think these are things of benefit to cities alone, they should consider how much of Wake County remains fairly rural.

They also, we hope, will recognize that clean water is no partisan issue. In the interest, they said, of saving money, legislators turned to SolarBees, floating water-churners, to reduce the effects of algae in Jordan Lake. It didn’t work and became something of a bad joke. The devices have been removed.

Jordan and Falls are affected by upstream development, and Republicans have given too much leeway to developers in the interest of bolstering the economy. The problem is that while big developments upstream may mean big money for those developers, the pollution that can result from runoff and other consequences does a lifetime of damage to the water supply. And what’s the long-term effect of that? An end to development and resulting economic benefits for areas downstream. Short-term economic gain for a few turns into long-term bad consequences for the many.

Wake commissioners are pushing for strong rules to protect the lakes, which supply drinking water for Wake and other nearby counties.

Republicans, if they choose to be champions of clean water, would broaden their support, and not just among the tree-huggers they’re not too crazy about. Clean water means the potential for growth, and that includes the smaller communities outside larger urban areas. Rules also save money in the long term: Cleaning up an environmental mess is a yeoman’s task and an expensive one.

Commissioners also would like to see the state loosen up on a law that prevents rail projects such as the ones (light and commuter rail) in the sights of local governments in the Triangle. The law limits those projects to receiving no more than 10 percent of total funding from the state. That’s crippling. Durham and Orange counties, for example, now are looking at a $254 million shortfall in their efforts to build a light rail connection between the counties. Considering the increasing populations, and the oppressive traffic now in the I-40 corridor, killing the chances for that light rail endeavor and planning for others is shortsighted.

Republican lawmakers unfortunately tend to look at mass transit as some kind of liberal conspiracy advocated by Democrats and environmentalists. But GOP leaders should have learned, in fact, from the wipeout of four Republican Wake County commissioners by four Democrats in 2014 that transit is a positive. The Republicans had declined to even put a transit tax to a vote, and it likely cost them that election. It’s one thing to state a position. It’s quite another to deny the people who elected you the right to have their say.

In fact, a light rail network throughout the Triangle, along with rapid bus service, would not just ease traffic but could help knit the medical services available in the region together, and prompt all sorts of development near rail stations that would not increase traffic congestion.

This, as with water protection, is not a partisan issue. It’s people friendly and traffic unfriendly, which is a good thing. Republicans can support it and, as with water rules, broaden their own support among the general public, which supports more mass transit options and long has. Wake leaders understand they must focus on the future, not just barely maintaining the present.