Would commuter rail service work in the Triangle?

February 1, 2012 5:52:13 AM PST
A top transportation official from the Obama Administration spent time in the Triangle Tuesday looking at plans for commuter rail service in the area.

It's a vision that would require lots of federal and state funds, as well as local taxpayer support. However, it's one that not everyone feels is feasible.

If you ask Federal Transportation Administrator Peter Rogoff his thoughts about expanding transit in the Triangle to include commuter and light rail lines connecting key cities, he'll tell you it's time to take action.

"This area is going to see a lot of growth," said Rogoff. "It already has and the question really that the community has to face is whether they're going to plan for that growth or be overwhelmed by it?"

Rogoff was in town touring proposed transit lines between Raleigh and Durham to get a better sense of the future of public transit here. It's a future that will require federal and state funds as well as local taxpayer dollars to make a reality.

That's a vision that Michael Sanera, of the John Locke Foundation, said is flawed. His group released a review Tuesday that calls the transit plan unfeasible and unreliable.

"We've looked at transit, both here in the state and around the country, and we find rail projects in particular to be a really bad deal for the taxpayers," said Sanera.

Sanera says the review of the Wake County part of the transit plan shows the needs of the Triangle will not be met if rail projects become a reality.

"When you get down to the basic numbers, only 1 percent, or probably even less than 1 percent, of the travel in the Triangle area will be on transit," said Sanera.

So far, only voters in Durham have agreed to an increase in the sales tax to help fund transit. Taxpayers in Orange and Wake Counties have yet to weigh in. Their votes will be key in determining whether federal funds funnel to the Triangle.

Sanera said politics in an election year like 2012 will also play a role.

"The county taxpayers are really sticking their necks out if they vote for a sales tax increase for transit based on help from the state and the federal government," said Sanera.

ABC11 did talk to drivers about their interest in rail transit. Most seemed indifferent and unwilling to use trains over cars. Only one person, who lives in downtown Raleigh, said he would likely use rail service on a regular basis.

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