Mayor sees rails in Raleigh's future

RALEIGH The rail line and the buses are the key elements of a 10-year transit plan for the county developed largely by Triangle Transit was unveiled at a meeting at City Hall Thursday night.

“Urban areas like ours simply need to have good transit,” Meeker said.

The plan calls for 17 miles of rail along two lines. Both would originate downtown and both would run alongside existing rails. One corridor would head north more or less paralleling Capital Boulevard up to Spring Forest Road. The other would head west along Hillsborough Street into downtown Cary. The idea would be to start with these two lines and then extend them and add others in future decades. Rail cars would be similar in appearance to the ones used in Charlotte on the LYNX Blue Line.

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"We're becoming more urban and we're finding rail lines are really very well ridden,” Meeker said. “The rail routes have been picked based upon the most amount of traffic congestion.”

The plan calls for having the rail lines in place within 8 or 9 years. Buses would come first. Meeker said he’d like to see 75 new buses on the streets within the first three years of the plan, with 35 more added after that.

"You'd have service from Garner or East Wake into central Raleigh. There also would have service, not just Cary to Raleigh but also out to the (Research Triangle) Park, so you really have a lot of service you can get around the Triangle without having to have a car for everybody," the mayor said.

Funding for the plan, however, threatens to stop it in its tracks. The idea is to impose an additional half-cent sales tax on retail sales in Wake County. Meeker believes that would generate $750 million over 10 years. First, the state legislature has to grant Wake County commissioners the authority to put such a tax up for voter approval; then, commissioners would have to decide whether they wanted it on a ballot. Meeker concedes now might not be the best time to ask taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets.

"Of course no one likes the tax but service really would be beneficial,” he said.

And – forget taxpayers for the moment – Meeker doesn’t even have support from all of his fellow county mayors. Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly says he likes the idea of the buses, but not the rail.

"I don't believe that our area with our density and the plans I've seen is sustainable financially for the long term. I think it'll be a burden for our citizens," Weatherly said.

He added that with the two rail lines serving only North Raleigh and Cary, much of the county would be subsidizing ridership in those select areas.

"It's not fair to ask our commuters to pay for a line that others will use," he said.

Eyewitness News found mixed opinion on the street.

"If I felt the rail system was going to effectively move people from where they live to where they work, I would vote for it,” said Glenn Wylie of Wake Forest. “I would be willing to pay a little more taxes if I thought it was gonna have that effect."

Others were, pardon the pun, on the other side of the tracks.

When told of the transit plan, Wake County Schools employee Patty Henry had the following reaction:

"The idea's great. We're way behind most other cities all across the country."

When asked about the idea behind paying for it?

"I would absolutely be opposed to any more tax increase than we are already facing," Henry said.

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