New hope exists for long-debated but never realized Triangle commuter rail system

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ByCindy Bae via WTVD logo
Saturday, July 16, 2022
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Officials discuss the future of transportation in the Triangle.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Making a commitment involves taking away choices and for Ever Peters in Raleigh, there was a difficult decision to make.

"I sold my car and now I take public transportation," Peters said. "Gas prices were definitely like the final straw. They're just too expensive and if I want to continue to live in my apartment, I needed to be able to do this to be able to continue to work."

But changing their commute to ride public transit all the time is tolerable for Peters, who's eager to see more methods of transportation, such as a commuter rail.

"I've been counting down the days until we get that," Peters said. "I know in San Francisco, like the trolleys and things like that, I wish we had something similar here."

That sentiment was echoed by Molly Green, who's lived in downtown Raleigh for four years after living in Cary.

"Knowing how the Triangle has grown, I think a direct line to downtown Durham and Chapel Hill would be key," Green said.

For two years, GoTriangle studied how to build a commuter rail in order to add a new component to the region's transit system, according to president and CEO Charles Lattuca.

"We have such great data from that study," Lattuca said. "We're showing more than 700,000 people coming into the area by 2040 and more than 800,000 jobs, so we're actually going to have more jobs than people coming in."

Transportation will be even more important in the future, especially in Wake County, where at least an average of 62 people come in a day.

Raleigh mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said on Thursday how transportation issues need to be addressed to not end up like other growing cities where drivers face two-hour commutes.

"Can we handle all those cars on our system? I'm not sure," Lattuca said, adding that it's something DOT will need to address. "But I think GoTriangle and its transit partners can be part of the solution to making sure our roads have enough capacity to handle whatever traffic we are going to have in the future."

Traffic is something Green's already concerned about as more people move to the area.

"That's why I think there should be more options than the bus," Green said. "We live close to Moore Square Station, but I also have a daughter who doesn't drive, and it concerns me."

With a rail project finally gaining some traction, GoTriangle hopes to present the study to the board in August.

"I totally agree with anybody that says, "Have we been talking about this forever?" Lattuca said. "And the answer is probably "Yes," but it just takes a long time to deliver a project that could cost a billion dollars, up to $3 billion depending on what size project we deliver for the region."

Lattuca said the report is going to provide options to people and elected officials to decide how large of a project they want to take on.

"How many people can we serve, at what cost, and can we build this in phases, perhaps?" Lattuca said.

The City of Raleigh is also making an investment in a new bus rapid transit system, a system that Lattuca said mixes in the rail and micro transit that towns are looking at, such as Morrisville, who put in a new micro transit system to connect its residents to GoTriangle.

"We coordinate with Raleigh on their bus rapid transit program, which is starting to kick off and go under construction and it would have five bus rapid transit routes by 2030," Lattuca said.

In Durham, the city's seeking public input next week on a new rail trail project that will turn a rail corridor into a trail where people can walk and ride their bikes on.

"What we need to figure out from residents is what types of amenities they might like along the trail," bicycle and pedestrian project manager Nia Rodgers said. "We're not sure how far the budget will stretch ... but if we can prioritize what people might like along the trail that will help us make the choices."

Amenities including a bench, doggie waste cans, signage or public art.

"I would love for this project to incorporate the arts," Rodgers said.

With the city also seeing growth, Rodgers said the ability to build trails can also connect their transit station to several neighborhoods and to some bus routes.

"The end of the trail is going to be at our Durham transit station," Rodgers said. "So all the buses come in there every day. And the other end of it is at Avondale Drive, which is kind of a mix of a dense neighborhood and a commercial area and there is a bus stop there."

Rodgers said one thing that will be important to Durham's growth is finding alternate transportation and alternate recreation.

"Durham is pretty dense in its center, so our ability to build larger parks is kind of limited," Rodgers said. "But we can build this trail that can have amenities ... it also connects our transit station to several neighborhoods and to some bus routes so that's important as well if you're someone who's not going to rely on a car."

Rodgers said the next step in the project is to hear from the public before they summarize and discuss the feedback with the city.

"I would love for you to be able to go on this and see a story that you didn't know and be able to take the time to enjoy that, because you feel safe and comfortable," Rodgers said.