This week, Wake County officials announced a $2.3 billion transit plan that calls for trains and a tremendous increase in bus service. It’s a welcome and inspiring vision of a region on a roll, but the plan comes with caveats.
Wake voters must approve a half-cent local sales tax next year, and Wake County and Durham County must get federal money to help pay for a 37-mile commuter rail line. If the sales tax is approved, the plans call for “rapid” buses that might have dedicated fast lanes and stops that look like rail platforms. Should all that come together, officials estimate that transit riders in Wake County might quadruple by 2027.
Now the challenge is to push on and get rapid bus transit going and rail line construction underway as quickly as possible. Those who have driven on the Beltline in Wake County or on I-40 or other commuter roads at rush hour know that the region needs more and faster options for getting around. Every day brings more people and cars to the Triangle. Now it’s a race to get more mass transit before gridlock chokes growth and the economy.
The transit plan is both urgent and uncertain, but its unveiling does mark the end of another sort of gridlock: the opposition of the previous Republican-run Wake County Board of Commissioners to any action on mass transit.
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The GOP majority essentially held back progress on cooperative light-rail systems, commuter rail and vastly expanded rapid bus transit for years. Their reasoning was nonsensical. Commissioner Paul Coble, a former Raleigh mayor, seemed to delight in criticizing all who dared make common-sense arguments for rail service.
The 2014 vote that took him and the other Republicans out of office was a referendum on their performance on transit and on schools. Then, in 2014, a newly elected all-Democrat board ushered in a new era of more investment in schools and, at last, a coming referendum on a half-cent local sales tax to invest in a modern transit plan.
That the public supports more transit options is a good sign for officials who have developed this Wake plan. An influx of younger residents, many of whom are perfectly open to light rail and other options instead of automobiles, has helped to push the plan along. So has the ever-burgeoning traffic all over the Triangle.