Commentary

Dave Laudicina: Now is not time to abandon rail plan

December 13, 2013 

Friday-Center-with-label-01.jpg

An artist’s rendering shows a future light-rail line crossing a bridge over N.C. 54 near the Friday Center station in Chapel Hill.

TRIANGLE TRANSIT

Now is not the time to abandon the Triangle Transit (TTA) rail transit plan.

I’m inviting everyone to Google, to take a look at the Research Triangle Park (RTP) Master Plan. The 50-year document plans for future growth of knowledge-based jobs in RTP and the development of an innovation center second to none.

The plan calls for the expansion of knowledge-based jobs from a current 39,000 of a current capacity of 45,000 to a total capacity of 150,000 jobs. That’s a potential of 110,000 new knowledge jobs. With a multiplier of knowledge to new service jobs of 5 it means the RTP Master Plan could easily create over 600,000 new jobs (when considering families attached to a job holder we are probably talking about a million new residents) in the Triangle region.

Notice on one of the first pages of the RTP Master Plan is a picture of a rail line. The plan calls for mixed-used development town centers built around train stops on the existing N.C. Railroad rail right of way.

Contrary to the thought of scaling back on the TTA rail transit plan our Triangle leaders should be working hard to get all phases of the current rail plan implemented including Wake County. It is essential to get rail service whether commuter or light rail or both into RTP, Chapel Hill, Durham, Cary and Raleigh. The best way to do this is by building an artery that serves the Triangle population centers and allows future expansion to the Triad.

The TTA transit plan does just that by using the existing NCRR rail right of way to build a combination of Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Commuter Rail Transit (CRT) serving the major population centers of the Triangle. By utilizing this right of way with the exception of the Durham Chapel Hill segment, no new right of way need be purchased. Also the rail right of way (the same rail right of way Amtrak currently uses) exists to allow expansion of the rail transit system to Hillsborough, Burlington, Greensboro, Winston Salem and even High Point. This expansion of the rail system would provide daily contiguous commuting options anywhere between High Point and Raleigh.

The existing rail right of way also goes right through the RTP which will be the epicenter of new future creation of both knowledge and service jobs in the Triangle.

Some say we should be building levels of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). BRT may be a good way to move people to the rail artery but to implement BRT properly to serve the whole region means fixed guide way BRT systems which means purchasing right of way, building stations, and parking facilities. If you look at the costs of a fixed guide way BRT it may be cheaper at start up but in the long term factoring the cost of equipment maintenance and operation, LRT costs about the same as a fixed guide way BRT. If you were to try and build a fixed guide way BRT you would be facing the same process and costs of obtaining federal funds as any option for transit in the Triangle.

The future is now and the time to proceed in building the TTA transit rail plan is now. Postponing this and trying to build small BRT segments that don’t service the Triangle contiguously will not give the Triangle the best capability to serve its future population centers and compete for future knowledge and service jobs with other innovation centers like Silicon Valley and Seattle. I’m glad our Durham-Orange leaders have developed this plan. The Orange-Durham segment of the TTA plan was passed by Orange and Durham voters, and those voters expect our leaders to stick with the plan they voted for.

Dave Laudicina lives in Hillsborough.

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