Annual transportation meeting highlights efforts to enhance access, keep up with population growth

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Transportation leaders push for solutions for growing population
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Elected officials met with transit and business leaders in Cary Tuesday for the annual Regional Transportation Alliance event.

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Elected officials met with transit and business leaders in Cary on Tuesday for the annual Regional Transportation Alliance event.

"I think it's important that we have a regional approach. We can't look at it simply from a city (or) community standpoint, we've got to look at the Triangle as a whole and the issues that concern the Triangle as a whole," said Jay Irby, an Area Executive for First Citizens Bank.

The 21st annual meeting featured both virtual and in-person gatherings, with attendees discussing ongoing and proposed plans.

"BRT, Bus Rapid Transit or Buses Resembling Trains, those begin construction this year right over there in Raleigh, but you're going to have it in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, connecting the entire region over time," Joe Milazzo II, Executive Director of Regional Transportation Alliance, explained, while also pointing to work on Interstate 540.

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Expanding commuter rail was a topic of discussion, as GoTriangle continues to seek feedback on the Greater Triangle Commuter Rail Feasibility study.

"We're going to add a million people here by 2050. They're going to bring about 1.3 million cars with them, and it's going to create about 850,000 jobs," said GoTriangle President and CEO Charles Lattuca.

The project, anticipated to cost $3.2 billion, would include passenger service at 15 stations across nearly 43 miles, ranging from Durham to Clayton.

"If we don't do something to provide more transit now, whether it be bus, bus rapid transit or rail, in 20 years, we are not going to be very happy," said Lattuca.

Transportation access overlaps with continued housing affordability concerns; according to Triangle MLS, the median sales price for the region increased by $57,000 from 2021 to 2022.

"We know that if we're able to get the commuter rail in place, we know that's where we're going to see a lot of growth, especially affordable housing, businesses, and everyone is going to be looking at getting along that corridor," said Wake County Commissioner Donald Mial, who represents District 1.

As companies consider future relocations and plans, they often highlight the Triangle's existing talent and higher education systems, both of which are impacted by existing transit limitations.

"We know from a Wake Tech perspective that mobility can be the difference between completing a program (and) not completing a program, and that changes everything about their work future, their economic future," said Wake Tech Community College President Scott Ralls.

Ralls pointed to ongoing efforts to ease daily transportation.

"We're doing a major expansion of our healthcare campus, that's taking us to WakeMed. So having bus rapid transit coming out that corridor, we're very excited about that and what that would mean. We know what it means when students can access bus stops at our campuses," said Ralls, who pointed to growth in areas outside Raleigh and Durham.

"For the business community, transportation is always among the top issues that we worry about all the time. We want to make sure our associates can get to and from, clients, customers, suppliers, it all has to work," Milazzo added, as he agreed with the need for a long-term approach.

Zero fare ridership on GoCary, GoDurham, GoRaleigh, and GoTriangle has been in effect over the course of the pandemic, as transportation officials study its long-term applicability.

"Is there a way that we can maximize our ridership, maximize the accessibility, because what zero fare does do -- it reduces barriers to not only using transit, but to considering it," Milazzo said.

The fares are set to be suspended through the end of June, with federal CARES act money utilized to help offset revenue losses.

"A lot of people commute to work, back home, so the buses have been godsends," said Nathaniel McKeithan, a Raleigh native who rides the bus daily.

McKeithan, who owns a vehicle, also points to the convenience of the routes.

"It has really been a blessing because I don't have to worry about parking," said McKeithan.