Wanted: Public Input on Triangle Rail Plans

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Someday you’ll be able to hop on a train in Raleigh and go to Durham or to Chapel Hill for dinner. Someday you will commute to RTP from via commuter rail instead of an agonizing stop-and-go car ride.

Or at least, that’s the plan.

If you’ve missed it, Triangle Transit officials are working toward this vision, called the Triangle Regional Transit Program. And next week, the public will get a chance to weigh in on the latest plans for a light and commuter rail systems along with improved bus routes.

This is not the same as the federal high-speed rail plan that’s caused some commotion in downtown Raleigh. Instead, this is local transportation to get you from western to eastern part of the Triangle “as a seamless web,” said Brad Schultz, spokesman for Triangle Transit.

This is actually the third round of workshops. The first ones last year determined the basic layout for the three types of transit in Wake, Durham and Orange counties. This time, Triangle Transit will unveil a few more specifics, displaying maps of the potential routes, possible stop locations, the type of rail technology and more.

Here’s the outline:

•    Wake County Corridor – This will be mostly light rail, starting near the Triangle Metro Center in Research Triangle Park (RTP) and following the existing North Carolina Railroad (NCRR) corridor to Downtown Raleigh where it turns northward, continuing on the CSX corridor to near Triangle Town Center. The Wake County Corridor could also include future extensions from Triangle Town Center to Wake Forest and from Downtown Cary to Apex.

•    Durham/Orange County Corridor  – This is a mix of light rail and buses. Starts in Chapel Hill near the University of North Carolina Campus and roughly follows the US 15/501 corridor north to the City of Durham, where it turns eastward to follow the existing NCRR corridor to approximately the Triangle Metro Center in RTP.

•    Durham/Wake Corridor –This corridor would use commuter rail systems, following the existing NCRR corridor from Durham through RTP and Downtown Raleigh toward the Wake-Johnston County line.



See maps and more detail of the study corridors.

At the meetings, Triangle Transit officials will answer your questions about the routes, stations, type of rail and more. But they also want your feedback. Will this routes work? Should that one be moved slightly? Are the suggested station locations good? How will this interact with your neighborhood? Should the light rail stay on the ground or use a bridge through downtown Raleigh? Will these routes connect the major centers well?

“We’re really going to want to hear from folks and get that good cross section of ideas of what is workable, what needs to be improved upon,” Schultz said. “This is a good chance for the public before we get to making the recommendations to get in here and tell us ‘We agree with what you’ve done … or we think you need to get in and change this a little. The public can help guide us on their needs.”

Once the comments are gathered, they’ll go back and put it all together and then present a plan to the two Metropolitan Planning Organizations: Durham-Chapel Hill and Capital Area. Schultz said they hope to present plans to the MPOs by next spring.

After MPO approval, they can produce a timeline for the whole thing and begin the engineering and environmental planning. And, of course, come up with a financial plan. So don’t expect to hop a train in 2013, or even a new bus. Triangle Transit plans to draw from several funding sources, including state, local and federal governments. Doing so means these projects will take years.

Durham and Orange county commissioners may present voters with a 1/2 cent sales tax referendum this fall to help fund the project. Wake County Commissioners have said they prefer a spring or fall 2012 referendum.

Improved and expanded bus routes will appear first, Schultz said, within five years. The commuter rail would follow within eight years and finally, light rail within 10 to 12 years.

Don’t worry if you can’t make it to the meetings. This isn’t the last chance for the public to give input. The plans will eventually require approval from the three county commissions and various city councils.

“But this is the best chance for [people] — before we make recommendations — to give shape and make sure we get as much feedback as we can,” Schultz said. “With their involvement we can come up with a better plan … for everyone to be pleased with when make a financial investment in the future.”

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