Last week, a panel of national experts assembled in Raleigh to discuss the possibility of bringing a light rail or rapid-bus system to the county. The panel advised county commissioners to proceed with caution.
A rapid-bus system is aimed to combine the capacity and speed of a light rail or metro system with the flexibility, cost and simplicity of a bus system. Lightrails (or subway or metros) can be found in many large urban areas such as New York, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. These require certain things in order to run, such as steel-tracked fixed guideways that would add extra costs to this type of project.
“What we found were the (bus) ridership numbers are fairly low,” Clarence Marsella, former general manager and chief executive officer of the Denver Regional Transportation District, told county leaders. Adding rail typically increases ridership 30 percent, he said, so 30 percent of an already low number doesn’t justify the high cost of rail.
The panel recommended that Wake County approach local and regional transit gradually, first with enhanced bus service, then rail down the line.
In a recent interview with On the Record’s David Crabtree, Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata discussed an expansion of public transportation. Tata explained that $12 million was being taken from the Fortify Project (I-40/440 Rebuild Project) to give to public transportation with the Triangle Transit Authority. That money would be used to transport people from areas like Holly Springs, Cary and Garner to and from downtown Raleigh. Tata said DOT wanted to focus on major retail spots where the agency could also lease parking. This would give people is these areas an alternative in order to avoid the congestion between these smaller towns and downtown.
A rail system may be a future need, but spending millions on a project right now, that experts say isn’t needed, seems like a waste. DOT is working to come up with alternative solutions without going to the extreme of adding a lightrail system in Wake County. Only time will tell if these will be acceptable solutions or if DOT will have to move towards a lightrail system (or other alternative) in order to ease the congestion.