Wake county just isn't crowded enough to support rail transit outside experts say

http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/11/12/3365566/wake-county-just-isnt-crowded.html

The panelists said Wake County was not likely to attract the federal funding it would need for a light rail line, and it doesn’t have a dense downtown employment center that would support rush-hour commuter trains.

“It’s a mass mode,” Polzin said. “And you need mass to make it work cost-effectively."

But Chapel Hill is going to bet $30 million (with Durham) that we could use for other transit on getting federal and state funding?  Now that's something worth ranting about!


Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/11/12/3365566/wake-county-just-isnt-crowded.html#storylink=cpy

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Total votes: 11

90 Comments

Bonnie Hauser's picture

Is LRT off the tracks

 I guess Wake may may not come aboard after all.  Certainly its unrealistic to  expect federal funding for LRT to serve 400,000 people in Orange and Durham.  Its not just the $30 million - For Orange County alone, its $500 million - or $165 million per linear mile. Mark Zimmerman got it right - looks like LRT is off the tracks - thank goodness!http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2013/11/11/3362250/mark-zimmerman-light-rail-plan.html Are the commissioners (and their partners in Durham, TTA and the MPO) willing to step back and rethink this?  Will town leaders support this important change?   What's wrong with an impressive regional transportation system built around Bus Rapid transit - delivered for a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time - and that aligns to local land use plans and commuter needs.  Bonnie Hauser

Damon Seils's picture

Something worth ranting about

Even if you accept assumptions and conclusions about Wake County transportation planning from representatives of anti-public transportation organizations like the Reason Foundation and the Wake County Republican Party (which I do not), you need not accept that their assumptions and conclusions are relevant to the Durham and Orange transit plans. Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro have much higher transit ridership per capita than Wake has. They have higher investments in transit per capita. Their land use planning is increasingly oriented toward transit. Their largest employment centers continue to make transit-supportive decisions about parking policy and employee transit subsidies. Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro are simply not in the same situation as Raleigh and Wake County. It's also important in these discussions to keep in mind that long-term transportation plans are just that: long-term transportation plans. They do not simply address current needs; they seek to address anticipated needs in the decades to come. Transportation planning -- whether it gives priority to highways and single-occupancy vehicles or provides for multiple other modes -- has profound effects on the way a community develops and grows. I'm glad that our community has consistently expressed -- through the ballot box and in other ways -- a preference for a transit-oriented future.

$30 million is a lot of money to waste

That is the issue.  Elected officials will be responsible if we do.  We could use ALL that money for bus rapid transit and not risk losing a penny of it.  Wake County just got told by three independent experts that it is unlikely the federal government will fund LRT in this area.  If TTA does all the studies and submits them to the federal government and the federal government (not to mention the state) say no, we have no LRT and have squandered the opportunity to already have Bus Rapid Transit.  That is the judgement that has to be made by elected officials in Orange and Durham counties.   The question that citizens will fairly ask their elected officials is why take the riskier and low probability approach?

Damon Seils's picture

"in this area"

The panelists to whom you refer limited their comments explicitly to the Wake County plan. So, again, even if you accept their conclusions about Wake (which I do not), you should not assume that their conclusions are relevant to the Durham and Orange plans (because they are not).Let us not conveniently forget that our communities, including our elected officials, already have made these judgments about the transit plan. We have done so resoundingly through the decisions of local governing boards, numerous public workshops and public hearings, public debate, and a countywide ballot referendum (yes, an actual public vote just one year ago). The county commissioners, supported by the voters of Orange and Durham Counties, have consistently supported the transit plan, including the funding and decision-making mechanisms designed to support the plan’s implementation.

Bonnie Hauser's picture

not exactly

The plan was justified based on the population growth in Wake.  Do you  believe that the FTA is going to fund LRT for Durham and Orange?   Do you believe that local leaders should put $30-$36 million at risk without any indication that state or federal funding is coming? The game has changed - so whats your obligation to the voters?Bonnie Hauser

Travis Crayton's picture

How?

Bonnie, could you substantiate your claims that the plan was "justified based on the population growth in Wake"? I don't recall hearing any rhetoric about Wake County being integral to the plan, especially because there was widespread knowledge at the time of both the Durham County and Orange County votes that the political situation in Wake County meant a vote was still unikely.

Damon Seils's picture

Orange-Wake

The plan and its associated population projections are largely unrelated to Wake County. A comparatively small proportion of commuter trips are between Orange and Wake Counties.

Bonnie Hauser's picture

Is that a joke?

 Certainly you we're listening to the rhetoric about the million people who we're coming and how Wake's lack of participation was a temporary situation The question stands.  Without Federal or state funding, should TTA spend $30 -$36 million for LRT studies.  The plan expected the funds to come from grants Bonnie Hauser

Travis Crayton's picture

Your claims about Wake still unsubstantiated

Bonnie, your claims about the centrality of Wake to the light rail as part of the long-range transportation plan are still unsubstantiated. If you review this document from the MPO, you'll see the population totals that were used to guide the creation of the plan - and you'll see those totals are reported only for areas within the Triangle Regional Model that the DCHC MPO uses to craft its plans. Wake County simply is not a factor in the viability and feasibility for Durham-Orange light rail.

Bonnie Hauser's picture

Not exactly

Damon -  The data is coming from independent transportation experts - with support from the local business leaders.   Its not a voice against transit - tis a voice against LRT.  We support public transportation.  We just don't want to see all the funds go to 3 miles of LRT and park n rides and buses to get to the train.  Or worse- we don't want to see all our money go to LRT studies - and never get the funding for anything. And if you read the plan, you see that there is virtually no alignment with the local land use plans or growing transportation corridors.  It provides little if any service to transit dependent communities. Durham, Carrboro and Chapel Hill dont have enough "capitas" to justify LRT.  We need a good bus and BRT system - that provides frequent, integrated service throughout the community - not just to the university.  If we drop the 3 mile LRT project, we'll be more likely to get funding - and in a very short time, we could have triangle-wide BRT service. Bonnie Hauser

"independent?"

They parade around the country at the request of Republicans who want to put on this exact type of dog and pony show to say that public transportation is a waste of money.  Independent would imply that at some points they support public transit -- can you find an example of Reason/Heritage/Cato supporting ANY public transportation project ANYWHERE?

question long range plans

DamonYes we have invested in transit.  But will the long range plans pan out?  Chapel Hill owes its property tax increase this year to the declining transit revenues we can anticipate in the future. Even with the increased densities planned for the 2020 focus areas there won't be enough ridership to make us a real transit community. I don't believe the fundamental fabric of our towns is going to change - neighborhoods won't be torn down because we like them.  (Apartments will be.) As long as parents are taking their kids to music lesson and soccer practice the dream of transit won't happen.  I lived in an urban areas and rode a train to school every day --it took an hour to get there by transit.  It was a choice my parents made.  I chose small town Chapel HIll.  Carrboro -ever the exception- has proved what can be done to encourage walking and biking in the downtown areas.  Kudos to them. But I bet the parents still carpool. And the train won't help.  Julie McClintock

Stick with the current plan

In regards to the latest analysis for Wake County,the panel was made up of members with the same one sided opinions. I firmly believe the current Traingle Transi plan for Orange,Durham and Wake is the best. The plan is a regionl plan and is not designed for the way we look now but the way we'll look in the future. If you look at the research Trinagle strategic plan, it calls for 110,000 new knowledge workers and sustainable, walkable urban centers built around public transit. Each of these 110000 new knowledge worker generates 5 service jobs. That's 700,000 new jobs along with the families that come with each job. The Triangle transit plan calls for a computer rail systam as well as light rail going right through the park. The commuter rail sytem and light rail system with the exception of Chapel Hill-Durham Light rail is built on existing right of way. That means you will not have to purchase expensive urban right of way to build it. The commuter rail system could easily be extended fromWest Durham all the way to High Point via exisiting right of way serviced by wonderful new plenned (Hillsborough) and existing rail stations (Greensbor, Winston Salem, High Point and Burlington. The potential for developing sustainable walkable communities utilizing all these beautiful old mills in Haw River and Mebane is huge. Conceivably you could commute anywhere between High Point and Raleigh on a daily basis.

Some people talk of Bus Rapid transit. If done right to reduce the already congested roads in the triangle it needs dedicated lanes which means purchasing new right of way building stations and parking etc and replacing equipment far more often than Light Rail. As the Triangle Transit plan research shows in the long term the cost of BRT is about the same compared to Light Rail.

Let's not let urban sprawl control our destiny but  let our exisitng transit plan control where we grow in a sustainable, energy conservation manner.

Let's not let a bunch of Wake County biased,one sided views control our destiny. We have worked hard and voted for a the right plan.

Prdon any 2 finger typing spelling errors.

Thx Dave L

Jason Baker's picture

Public Meetings Today and Tomorrow

What great timing that tonight and tomorrow night citizens who have question and concerns about the Durham-Orange Light Rail project will have the opportunity to pose them to Triangle Transit staff. One has already occurred last night. Thank you to Mayor Pro Tem and Triangle Transit Board of Trustees Vice Chair Ed Harrison for mentioning these meetings at the town council meeting on Monday. The Orange County meeting has been on the OrangePolitics calendar for a while, but I’ll mention the remaining meetings again here for easy access.

Wednesday, November 13Eno River Unity and Unitarian Fellowship Church4907 Garrett Road
Durham, NCThursday, November 14Friday Center100 Friday Center Drive
Chapel Hill, NCSide note: I’ve found Ed to be an excellent resource for informing me about the TTA board’s work on this and related issues and I hope folks make use of his fantastic constituent services to ask him about some of the policy discussions taking place at Triangle Transit. The TTA board meetings are also open to the public and have a public comment section at the beginning of the meeting.We are lucky to have what I think are some of the best transportation, environmental, and land use planners in the country working at Triangle Transit, and I think their responses to these questions could help clear up some misconceptions which seem to be floating around in the community about growth projections, the anticipated demand for transit, and the best solutions for accommodating these transit needs, both today and in the future. I hope anyone interested in the future of the Durham Orange Light Rail corridor will attend one of these meetings and have your questions answered.

Jason Baker's picture

Yes, sorry! 4:30-7pm!

"All meetings will be held from 4:30 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. Presentations and a question and answer session will be held at 5:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. An English-Spanish interpreter will be available at each meeting. Each meeting is within one quarter mile of public transit."More information here

What is the responsibility of elected officials?

There is an informative interview with Bruce Siceloff on NPR this morning. In it he affirms the independence of the three experts Wake County brought in for their opinions and also uses the term very unlikley in regard to the probability of Wake County getting Federal funding for LRT.  The circumstances have changed since the election last year.  Do elected officials just say "the people have spoken" when the risk of wasting the $30 million has gone up -- or do they act responsibly and conclude there is a safer and still effective way to spend $30 million on transit.  I know my answer. Apparently Damon you disagree. If we go forward and waste $30 million who will take responsibility? 

Safeguards

Matt,Are you implying that the planning process doesn't include any safeguards or opportunities for everyone to step back and say go or no-go? I like your question about responsibility, but I would take it further. How do elected officials balance their responsibility to the present and the future? We've all seen what happens when decisions are made in the absence of understanding long-term impacts (I'm thinking library.....). We've also seen the problems lack of planning for the future creates (I'm thinking economic development....). I would expect elected officials/advocates to answer these questions differently based on their risk-aversion quotient. I'd love to hear the pro/con lists for the project from both you and Damon. I don't think reducing this to risk-aversion only is a sufficient argument.

gercohen's picture

don't look at Wake through an Orange lens

don't look at Wake through an Orange lens, you will be very confused. At least two of the three "experts" were NOT independent, they were brought in to reinforce the views of the majority of the commissioners (who were elected in 2010 and are up in 2014) who are anti-rail. Nothing has changed in Wake County. It's an optical illusion. In any case, LRT for Wake was the THIRD priority in the plan that has sat on the table for two years obstructed by the county commissioners. Phase I was bus expansion. Phase II is commuter heavy rail Garner to Durham (which is in the adopted Durham plan). Phase III is light rail IF federal funds are available.  LRT is NOT central to the Wake plan.

Damon Seils's picture

Re: "don't look at Wake through an Orange lens"

Thanks for the additional background, Gerry. A favored new narrative among opponents of the Durham and Orange transit plans is that "circumstances have changed" and that "the game has changed" since the implementation agreements were approved less than a year ago. The evidence offered for this assertion is the panel discussion held in Wake County, in which the participants offered their conclusions about the Wake County plan only. To my knowledge, no compelling news has been shared (either positive or negative) in the past 12 months that changes the long-term prognosis for the Durham and Orange transit plans.

Accountability of elected officials is vital to a democracy

Since the advocates for potentially wasting $30 to $36 million are so adamant, then we need to be sure we remember them and they can explain to voters why they supported such a risky decision to potentially lose a staggering amount of money.  So far it's Damon in favor and me opposed.  Any others out there want to put their names on the line.  The answer will be binary so be careful!  And let's not forget the local Chamber which has been such a strong advocate as well.  $30 million is a lot of dues!

Ruby Sinreich's picture

"Outside Experts"

So Matt, are you in the habit of taking advice from "experts" from right-leaning libertarian think tanks and the Republican Party?  Is that the type of thing that guides your thinking about transportation and land use policy?

Is this your effort at a constructive dialogue?

So Ruby,  have you looked at the backgrounds and credentials of the three independent experts that the Wake County manager invited to give their thoughts to the Commissioners.  Your typical insistence on framing this and all issues in terms of right and left is unconstructive at best.  This is not a question of whether we spend $30 million on transit or not.  It is a question of the best way to do so -- and the risk of spending it on an LRT application is substantial  -- and more so today than last week.  Your hyper aggressive attacking approach is what makes it so hard to have a reasoned discussion of these types of issues.

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Constructive dialogue

Perhaps you can help me understand what you mean by "constructive dialog." Was your expletive-laden interruption of Council Member Harrison's transit announcement constructive? Or even a dialog?It starts at approximately minute 30:35 in the video at http://chapelhill.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=1960 if folks would like to check that out.Or this post here on OP where you cite anti-transit activists as saying things that are anti-transit, and then go on the attack when people engage you on the facts. Is responding to your post a "hyper aggressive attacking approach"? Were you thinking we would all respond with thanks for setting us straight when you came and posted here or did you actually want to have the debate which people have quite politely engaged in?

Mark Chilton

Has re-established himself as the uncontested master of "expletive laden remarks".  Way to go Mark.  Sorry to see the CHN didn't pick up "balderdash" though. I thought that was your best. It has a sort of onomatopoeiac quality. 

Bonnie Hauser's picture

Move the discussion to CHW

Matt- this is a waste of time - important voices are blocked from posting on this blog - and no one wants to deal with your question. Regardless of how you feel about the plan or LRT - at this point TTA's grant proposals have been sent back.  So should TTA be allowed to continue with its plans for LRT -with the  taxpayer assuming all the risk. That wasn't the planNancy Oates has promised an open dialog on Chapel Hill Watch and "Many" has started the discussion.  www.chapelhillwatch.comBonnie Hauser

OP Editors's picture

Different opinions are welcome on OP

No-one who registers is blocked from posting here as long as they treat others with respect and follow the guidelines. You and Matt are perfect examples of how welcome different voices are. Nothing you've written here has ever been restricted in any way. We occasionally hear reports of people not being able to post on OP, but as far as we can tell it is folks writing anonymous comments without logging in. Our policy for the last 3 years has been to only publish anonymous comments when they contribute substantially to the conversation. We have found through 10 years of experience that requiring people to be more accountable for what they say improves the quality of discourse in this online community. 

Tonight's public meeting

I have to admit that I haven't paid a lot of attention to this issue so I went to tonight's public meeting and listened with an open mind. What surprised me is that I can't figure out why anyone wouldn't think this is a good project. It's definitely expensive, but with a simple payback of less than 15 years, not counting the financial and environmental benefits of the carbon reduction, it seems like a slam dunk to me. The route serves two large medical complexes, three universities, multiple retail centers, and several large neighborhoods. For most of the route, existing easements are already in place reducing the overall cost of the project. The same route cannot be served by BRT. Chapel Hill Transit has already started benefitting from the extra $400,000 in funding and that's just the first year. There are also multiple safeguards built into the overall process so that we can't get too far down the road before learning that the feds won't look favorably at the funding request. It is based on population growth projections that could always change, but that's true of almost all planning efforts. We're already building other infrastructure based on those projections, so why wouldn't we be proactive on transit? If we don't do this now, it will just get harder as more development occurs. This is a very transit friendly community. Between Chapel Hill and Durham we have higher ridership than Raleigh does, despite our much smaller population. So it doesn't surprise me that Raleigh's consultants would advise against their pursuit of LRT. But I still can't figure out what the advice of those consultants have to do with Orange-Durham. Different communities, different profiles, different needs.This isn't the reaction I expected to have. I thought I would come out of the meeting conflicted. Instead they have my total support. If you go tomorrow night, make sure you spend time with the animation. It's really very informative.   

Bonnie Hauser's picture

more bad news?

There's no expected improvement in congestion or carbon (according to the MPO.).  CHT was supposed to get close to $1 million - then $770,000  -now $400,000- what happened?  Did they cut the projected additional bus hours?Bonnie Hauser

Travis Crayton's picture

Citation?

Bonnie, where are you getting these numbers? It's hard to have an informed conversation when you continue to say things without substantiating your claims.

Carbon reduction benefits

"There's no expected improvement in congestion or carbon (according to the MPO.)."According to the environmental planner I spoke with last night, they are required to incorporate carbon levels in the environmental impact assessment they are preparing. They are working with the Feds to ensure their assessment uses federally accepted metrics. 

Bonnie Hauser's picture

Travis - the $400,000 came

Travis - the $400,000 came from Terri - the nearly $1million came from the plan and the $770 came from the last report from TTA to the commissioners. This is a complex plan.  Youll have to invest time in reading the appendices if you want to follow the numbers.    If you want a lesson in transparency - read Durham's plan and Orange County's plan. Durham knows exactly what its getting, for how much and in what order.  Orange's plan is rifled with possibles and the annual costs are dispersed over 20 pages of projects. Its clear as mud. Bonnie Hauser

ldhintz's picture

light rail

I agree with Terri. I think it is a great project. See ourtransitfuture.com.  The focus tonight was to introduce the beginning of the Environmental Impact Statement process. It was not designed to address the questions Bonnie or Matt raised. The studies are just beginning and the public will comment after the research is presented. They will study the amount of noise the routes will produce. They did not seem to be studying its impact on bike/pedestrian trails. Part of the route goes by my son's old school (Glenwood) and will have a station on Mason Farm Rd across from where we live (Kings Mill Rd.) The route goes by several wetlands and that needs to be analyzed. I think it will be good for the region if the Orange -Durham system ties into Wake County but that is a different issue. At some of the candidate forums we were asked about the light rail transit. I know I supported it as did most of the other candidates. I think Amy and/or Maria were more interested in buses than rail. Does any one else remember? About 90 people were at the 5PM presentation.  Most of the participants were showing gray. I'll be 71 if it goes in operation at the earliest date: 2026.

Molly De Marco's picture

Elected Officials are on record

There haven't been any substantive changes to the plan since voters passed the transit tax in 2012. At that time, many elected officials were on record supporting the plan. That information was compiled and can be found here. This includes the majority of the members of the governing bodies of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County including the mayors of all Orange County towns. Triangle Transit is simply moving forward with the process that the public voted to support.

Things have changed

Molly,  You are correct but things have changed since the vote last year.  The expectation (correct or not) was that Wake would participate and that their participation would increase the likelihood of approval by the FTA.  Now, of course some are arguing that Wake is different and it doesn't matter.  In addition, when this all started -- indeed when the first referendum was held, the expectation was that we would get federal funding for the $40 million through an earmark.  In 2011 the Congress put a temporary ban on earmarks so that source of funding went away.  Now Orange and Durham County are proceeding with no external funding -- and taking 100% of the risk.  I want to see elected officials say they agree that this is a risk worth taking.  That it is preferrable to risk $40 million on LRT because it is so superior to BRT that the risk is worth taking.  I also want them to affirm -- or not -- that they have evaluated the risk and believe it is a prudent one to take.  Many elected officials in Orange County read and post on OP and Chapel Hill Watch.  All they have to do is say "I understand the risk.  I have considered the alternatives.  I endorse taking this risk."  Merely supporting the transit  tax is not specific enough.  Eventually we will know whether one side or the other is right or wrong but to do this without accountability is negligent.

gercohen's picture

no, things haven't changed

no, things haven't changed. earmarks were banned in eary 2011 before either the Durham or Orange referenda. It is a competitive process for federal grants and were understood as such. Wake is footdragging, but the Durham-Orange LRT has no rlation to Wake Counhty, no funding for it comes from Wake.

gercohen's picture

not an elected official

Matt I'm neither an elected official in Orange County (6 years of that was enough) nor do I live in Orange County so I did not understand I was under this poll you are having. but if I was, yes, a risk worth taking. (I do have close relatives in Carrboro) Most observers expect a county commissioner party control switch in Wake in 2014 and a 2015 referendum if there is none this year. The Ds swept the school board (all 9 seats) in 2011 and 2013 and ran up a huge margin for the county commiissions 3 seats up in 2012.  2010 had been a GOP year in Wake like nationally.

gercohen's picture

direct economic risk

well my son's fiancee lives in Carrboro (MD/Phd student) and he lives there three days a week so my family is spending a lot of sales tax money in Orange and property tax through rent. Spending all day there Saturday getting car maintenance done, eating lunch and dinner. would retire back to Chapel Hill in a few years if there's enough density to bring down housing costs for new/returning residents.

The risk levels are different

and we do not know how much the cost would be for the BRT impact studies so your statement is not correct.  What we have been hearing from a broad array of experts is that BRT is more likely to get approved in general and that LRT has fallen out of favor at the FTA.  We can impugn the motives of this broad array of experts.  We can question their judgement -- but the almost unanimous voice is that BRT is a better bet.  Where do we go if LRT is turned down?   Do we then pursue BRT?  

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