CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Elected leaders, transit officials and business executives gathered Friday for the 22nd annual Regional Transportation Alliance meeting in Cary.
"The market is growing. We need to make sure we are focused and have that continued sense of urgency and success," said RTA Executive Director Joe Milazzo.
The U.S. Census Bureau noted North Carolina saw the third-largest population influx last year, with the Triangle feeling a significant portion of that impact.
"The celebration of I-540. Eighteen miles completed this summer, another 10 miles under construction in a few months. The launch of BRT, Bus Rapid Transit, or as we call it in the business community - buses resembling trains. We're really excited about that happening. But we've got some other things -- Can we accelerate Capital Boulevard (improvements)?" said Milazzo.
Raleigh broke ground on its new transportation system in November, the first bus rapid transit corridor in North Carolina. The route, which will connect downtown Raleigh to WakeMed and New Bern, will include high-capacity buses with dedicated lanes.
"Right now, the route 15 that serves New Bern Avenue serves about 2,500 passengers a day. In the future with bus rapid transit service that ridership is anticipated to grow close to 5,000 to 6,000 passengers a day," said Raleigh Transit Planning Supervisor Het Patel.
"People want to have buses that are reliable," said Congresswoman Deborah Ross, who represents the state's 2nd District.
Bus riders in downtown Raleigh backed the idea for expanded access.
"It means a whole lot to me. Because without that, (I) won't get around," said Daniel Brown, who rides a GoRaleigh bus several times daily.
"It's easier for me and whatnot. I don't have any problems with it," said Annice Williams, who uses the bus for work.
Patel believes the additional routes will benefit both businesses and residents.
"We're going to have a parking lot at the end of the line, that allows for more people to drive to that and take the bus service into downtown or into any of the other activity services it connects to. It really does expand your reach for a population and employment perspective for businesses to tie into people that want to come to that area or even for workers that need to to get to those local businesses," Patel explained.
Part of the push behind public transportation is aimed at reducing congestion.
"At least for the last 15 years, practically every day somebody talks about traffic and most of the time it's Capital Boulevard traffic," said Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones.
"Capitol Boulevard is a disaster for people. It takes too much stress in their lives," added Milazzo.
In June, NCDOT held an open forum in Wake Forest, discussing plans to address those concerns. The project would run about 10 miles from I-540 to Purnell Road in Wake Forest, though only the first phase - from I-540 to Durant Road - is currently funded.
"We know what to do with it because NCDOT is a great plan to build a multimodal freeway. No stoplights anywhere from 540 the whole way to the Franklin County line. You'd get through it in 10 minutes nonstop. That is fantastic," said Milazzo.
"We're very pleased with the idea of at least exploring the possibility of having a freeway with toll revenue," noted Jones.
NCDOT reports 32,000 to 65,000 vehicles travel along this stretch every day, a range they project will increase to 44,000 to 75,000 vehicles by 2040.
"I actually leave (work) later than normal. The earlier I leave, the more I get caught in traffic," said Akram Youssef, whose family owns Dr. Stylz along Capital Boulevard.
The Wake Forest resident takes the stretch everyday, and said he notices the congestion more during his afternoon commute.
"I've talked to a couple friends who just (don't want) to leave the house sometimes (just because) of traffic," Youssef said.
The clothing store, which has been open for more than three decades in Wilmington and 26 years in Raleigh, relocated from a different location on Capital Boulevard in 2016.
"Better location, more cars, more (foot) traffic than the other area," Youssef explained.
He's grateful for the consistent presence.
"We have a lot of repeat customers every single day. It's like family when they come in," noted Youssef.
While he's also appreciative of efforts to ease traffic concerns, the possibility of a toll could be a hinderance.
"That will be probably a problem. It would definitely stop a lot of people from going that way because at the end of the day, they're getting charged," Youssef said.
Transportation officials also discussed efforts to streamline access in and out of RDU, which saw a record-number of passengers in 2023.
"RDU Airport and sustainable funding for that is the top priority of regional business community on transportation, and it has been for several years. It's going to continue to be that way in 2024," Milazzo noted.
"Lots of people moving in here because of those jobs. Lots of people moving in here just because of great quality of life. And so we've got on both sides, not only leisure customers continue to grow, the business grows as well," said Michael Landguth, President and CEO of the Raleigh Durham Airport Authority.
Landguth added the increased passengers have aligned with additional options for travelers.
"We are well into a $3 billion airport infrastructure program right now. That includes building a new runway, expanding Terminal 2, expanding Terminal 1, improving the roadway system. Doing all of those things to make sure we can provide additional capacity so we can continue to attract those airlines into the market (and) continue to grow," said Landguth.
Last year, Landguth noted RDU added 49 different routes and 25 destinations.
"Lots of people moving in here because of those jobs. Lots of people moving in here just because of great quality of life. And so we've got on both sides, not only leisure customers continue to grow, the business grows as well," said Landguth.
The business impact was on display last February, as Kempower announced a $41 million economic investment into Durham County.
"They came here in particular because the airport is so close to where they are. And you know where they fly through? Iceland. And we have that regular Raleigh to Reykjavik flight," explained Rep. Ross.
Transit officials also celebrated last month's bipartisan railroad investment, connecting Raleigh to Richmond. However, commuter rail within the Triangle has not yet received the same financial backing or federal support.
"With the trains, you can get there a lot quicker," said Mike Oliver, who drives in from Roanoke Rapids each week to feed people experiencing homelessness in Raleigh.