Now, at last, Wake County has a chance to move ahead with plans to expand mass transit, from increased bus service to eventually commuter rail. Voters will decide in November whether to approve a half-cent sales tax hike for the transit plan – and fortunately they have signaled they’re so inclined.
Wake is now at 1 million residents, and it’s estimated to be growing by 60 people a day. Not moving forward on transit would be condemning area residents to facing, every day, not just an I-40 that looks like a parking lot but but huge backups on major streets such as Six Forks Road and Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. Commuters already can attest to long delays.
And, over the long term, investment in transit will help to more efficiently connect, through commuter rail, the cities of the Triangle. That will be mightily important to Raleigh residents going to Duke or UNC Hospitals – or to work for that matter.
Transit will help bolster the Research Triangle Park as it expands and gets more creative with employment opportunities and residential development.
The area wants high-tech industry. That type of industry, as Raleigh already has seen, draws younger workers who are not as wedded to having to have a car as were their parents. They are going to use the expanded bus service and eventually those commuter trains.
It’s important to note as well that the bus service that would be part of the plan will include special lanes to increase their speed limits; the buses will be covering more territory more frequently. This is not, in other words, going to be the bus system familiar to most residents of Raleigh and Durham.
The plan, for which the sales tax boost would raise about $1 billion (the remaining $1.3 billion would come from a vehicle registration fee and federal money), also would make it possible, eventually, for Wake to partner with Durham to have commuter rail service during rush hours, trains that would go from Eastern Wake County through RTP and into Durham. And there would be, as part of the plan, better bus service to RDU airport.
Approval of this small tax hike, from 6.75 cents per dollar to 7.25, is vital, and it’s also vital that commissioners explain it clearly and commit all the money from the boost to transit. Public confidence must be strong going into the vote.
This should have happened long ago. But now commissioners are demonstrating foresight, and let us hope the people heed their call.