It's transit time

Thanks to dent (The Independent Weekly's excellent politics blog) for pointing to a new web site that articulates the plans and the need for serious regional transit in the Triangle. highlights the current proposal for a rail line from downtown Raleigh, through Cary and RTP, ending in downtown Durham. It has the first credible explanation I've seen for why the airport is not in phase one, and it shows all the great additional lines that can extend the system in the future, including ones from Chapel Hill to Durham and from Chapel Hill to RTP.

The site even includes a handy form to e-mail a whole bunch of elected officials whose support is crucial to the project.

My one complaint - because you know I have to have one - is that the site is all graphics. Even the text is displayed via images only, making the site inaccessible and harder to search. Anyway, it's a fantastic start. I hope to see it grow along with the crucial conversation about regional transportation.


From Price's website:

Washington, Dec 15, 2005 - US Rep. David Price (NC-04) issued the following statement this afternoon:

“Recent press reports have suggested that the Triangle Transit Authority's regional rail project may be ‘dead.' Based on the latest information I have, that suggestion is not accurate.

“I met personally with the acting administrator of the FTA yesterday, and he told me that FTA wants to work with TTA to bring the Triangle commuter rail project to completion. I am therefore quite surprised a letter sent to TTA by other members of this delegation would indicate otherwise.

“At this time, FTA is waiting for additional information, and I am hopeful that TTA will provide it in short order. Once FTA has all the data, the project will be formally rated. Only then will we know whether the project is eligible for full federal funding. In the meantime, it is the responsibility of elected officials at every level of government to work together in a bipartisan way to facilitate the FTA review process.

“The Triangle will need mass transit in the decades ahead. Highways alone cannot fully address traffic congestion and its impact on our quality of life.”

What's your best guess for when Red Rail will be up and running? How many years before Red Line breaks even?

meant to say the Red Line...

Hmmm... how do I word this...

For ten years Durham has had the fiscal authortiy to build a light rail transit station, but has not done so, awaiting go ahead from the feds.

Given recent developments, I don't see a completion date in the foreseeable future.

That website is pretty, but it sure lacks any tangible facts on the costs and benefits of light rail. I'm not opposed to light rail, but I'd love to see some projectsion on ridership, cost, traffic congestion, etc.

Interesting futuristic commentary in the January 1 issue of the Washington Post. More directly related to smart growth than light rail per se, but smart planning is universal:

"The single remaining reason for urban concentrations of any kind in 2030 has turned out to be face-to-face contact. Establishing trust or falling in love are difficult to sustain electronically. Having fun is especially enhanced by physical encounter.

This has led to the Santa-Fe-ing of America, with a premium on places where people find it nice to congregate, like the Piedmont of North Carolina and the Gold Country of the California Sierras. These village-like concentrations, long on charm, are dispersed far beyond anyplace previously defined as urban or urbane. The list conspicuously fails to include Gaithersburg."

Just got my 'Metro' magazine in the mail, complete with Bernie Reeves' rant on TTA (and new 'man of the year' with little elaboration!)

Bernie must be trying to get laid by some Republican dowager.

I agree with your comments...I've tried to make the website more text based so that it's more accessible. I've also added two new pages - one with an in-depth discussion of the airport issue, and another with details of the line itself. enjoy!


First- just like our road system and our air travel system, the regional rail system is unlikely to ever "break even."

All modes of transportation are subsidized to various degrees.

Second, on building the rail line, the design of the project is essentially finished. Once the financing components are all in place, it will take about 3 to 3.5 years to lay track, build stations, and do startup testing, which tends to last 1.5-3 months.

"If Red Line Doesn't Qualify for Funding, Why Does it Deserve it Anyway?
TTA Red Line was almost completely designed when the rules changed, meaning that it was created for less strenuous standards and too much money has already been invested for it to be thrown away at this point. Second, while highways receive 80% federal funding without having to prove their value, transit projects can receive only 60% federal funding and must prove their value repeatedly under a number of tests, taking years of research. The Triangle should take advantage of the opportunity to receive some transit funding before none of its projects can qualify for money."

Surely there are better reasons than a sunk-cost fallacy and a desire to get our share of federal porkbarrel spending to justify spending a billion dollars on this thing.

From the Skeptic's Dictionary:

sunk-cost fallacy

When one makes a hopeless investment, one sometimes reasons: I can't stop now, otherwise what I've invested so far will be lost. This is true, of course, but irrelevant to whether one should continue to invest in the project. Everything one has invested is lost regardless. If there is no hope for success in the future from the investment, then the fact that one has already lost a bundle should lead one to the conclusion that the rational thing to do is to withdraw from the project.

Allan is right on. He describes what we used to call the
Viet Nam war logic. "Because this many lives and that many dollars have been invested in the war,
we must soldier on so that those who have died will
not have died in vain."

Sound familiar today?

I think the reason to stick with the TTA's plan even if it doesn't qualify under federal standards is that it's a great, forward-thinking plan, and it's in the best corridor we have available.

Even if it means delaying the process, that's still way better than starting over from scratch with another corridor, another technology, another round of environmental impact statements, another round of property acquisition and emminent domain, and another decade of delay.

And, like I said before, I firmly believe that this IS the best plan for the region.

TTA and the cities should consider stepping back for a year, or perhaps 18 months, to get our local funding situation in order. This rental car tax isn't going anywhere. With a half-percent sales tax across Wake, Durham, and Orange counties, we could probably have the entire line from North Raleigh to Durham, plus the line to Chapel Hill and the airport done in ten years flat.

Passing the sales tax may prove difficult, but we have to get people to think about transit. Most importantly, TTA needs a mandate, direct from the voting public - and a ballot issue over a transit tax is the way to do it.

I don't want any more taxes. This place is too spread out for a rail line. Wait 20 years, then we will need it.

Wait 20 years and it will surely be too late. We have to start changing our land use plans yesterday to make at least parts of the Triangle into places that can work without cars.

I agree with dense development, and perhaps we should buy the right of ways now for rail, but I don't see people riding it anytime soon. Look at the DC subway, it is great but it took a long time to make it to the 'burbs.


If the voters vote "no" on the tax increase and/or light rail, would you take that as a sign that the system isn't necessary?

The proposed rail project should die because it is a bad project. Further, people won't be subject to imminent domain scandals as reported in today's N&O.

The proposed rail project can be federally funded only if the formula is tweaked to make it better than hypothetical fast bus service using the same proposed rail station sites. The idea is to make bus service look bad so rail looks good. Yet, expanded bus service is viewed as necessary to make the proposed rail viable!

One wonders why the hypothetical comparative bus service should be restricted to having to use the proposed rail stations in order to maximize its service. The rail stations are by necessity restricted to be on the rail line, which itself is not an ideal alignment, but bus nodes are not. A fairer comparison would be with hypothetical ideally located bus station nodes.

The Raleigh-Durham area has a smaller population than 7 areas with comparable rail. Only 4 of those areas are even close in population (the other 3 are more than 4 times as populous). Of those comparable 4 locales, only St. Louis has a roughly comparable population density. The St. Louis rail has more than twice the number of rail stations, and major sports venues and three times the downtown workers of Raleigh fueling its ridership. Our proposed rail has small park and ride lots, skips numerous hot spot locations, and serves an area with abundant free parking.

The reason commuter rail is barely hanging on in only a few locales nationwide is that it is very heavily subsidized. Roads are not subsidized per se because everybody benefits from roads. If local passenger rail was good, one would think it would be more widespread. Consider though all the rail lines that have succumbed to economic reality.

Because rail is on dedicated tracks, it only serves few places and those few who have easy access to the rail. In contrast, distributed bus service has the flexibility to use the existing vast road network (even without dedicated lanes), to get closer to door-to-door, and to change routing as necessary. The expense of a bus system lies largely in the personnel required to run it, but this job creation is arguably a good thing.

Rising fuel price is a poor reason to think rail will be increasingly necessary to alleviate congestion. We've already seen that the recent increase has modified people's behavior to drive less. Further price increases will surely see added and more drastic voluntary measures that result in reduced single occupant vehicle use and shorter trips.

Counterintuitively, rail and bus transit do not save fuel. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows the passenger cars and busses both use about 3500 BTUs per passenger mile.
Most rail lines are worse than that.


Chris: If voters turned down a sales tax, then I would concede that this region is not ready for rail transit yet, not that transit is a dead issue for all eternity. Nationally, I think that transit sales tax referrendums have a pretty high success rate, although I haven't done any research to back up that statement.

Wayne: It is certainly feasible that a well-funded bus system could serve MOST of our needs very well. The problem comes when you start putting those buses on I-40 at rush hour - they get caught in traffic, can't keep schedules, the quality of service drops, people get mad, etc. Bus lanes, you say? NCDOT studied this (and indeed wants to implement bus/HOV lanes on 40) but I recall the pricetag for a full setup with flyovers, etc. was well over $1 billion.

The eminent domain scandals you refer to are not specific to TTA. People get stepped on like that ALL THE TIME whenever a new interstate highway is built or a road widened. When it's for transit, it's a travesty and should not be tolerated. But when it's for a highway is it merely "the cost of progress?"

The case in question is going to court. A judge will determine the legitimacy of this claim, not a conservative watchdog type who wrote an article that plays off our emotions. I believe the guy would have been informed well in advance of TTA's intent to take the property via E.D., but regardless if TTA's appraisal and payment was indeed low, and his claim is legitimate, the guy will get more money. These is standard procedure for eminent domain.

Just because the voters turn down a local revenue source for transit does not mean it is not needed. It means that the public is presently unwilling to pay for it, regardless of the level of need.

I think the Wake County school infrastructure bond issue is a very good demonstration of this. Something like 20% of Wake County students have classrooms in trailers, and it is obvious that new facilities are needed.

It looks like Wake County is finally going to put a tax increase to the voters this fall with one of two construction packages that will significantly raise property taxes in Wake county. Will it pass? From what I can tell, there is no clear indication and this time that it will.

HOV/Bus lanes need not be that complicated. Sure, dedicated separate lanes with flyovers solve the problem of dealing with the congestion of other vehicles. This is the deluxe system. But there are cheaper, less ideal ways to get many of the benefits. This is analogous to scaling back of the proposed rail line.



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