Wake County Transit Investment Strategy
Transit Choices for our Community
After several years of efforts to advance a bold vision for improved and expanded public transit, Wake County is moving ahead with a new planning process for the Wake County Transit Investment Strategy, i.e. a transit plan to connect and enhance Wake and the Triangle!
Following transit analyses and local approval of a Triangle regional vision for expanded bus and rail service, Wake, Durham and Orange Counties each developed county plans in 2009-11.
Wake County worked with Triangle Transit and local Wake municipalities to develop a proposal for expanding and improving public transit in Wake that also connects regionally to Durham and Orange Counties. After being presented to the Wake Board of Commissioners in November 2011, no action was taken. Now, in 2014, Wake County and several key stakeholders (including Triangle Transit, Raleigh, Cary, RTP, NCSU and RDU Airport) have launched a new process to take a fresh look at important transit choices for Wake, and are involving the public in this process.
This new process is called the Wake County Transit Investment Strategy and is being led by county staff along with two consulting firms: nationally known Jarrett Walker and Associates, and locally based Kimley-Horn and Associates. These consultants will guide public discussion to help develop strong goals for a Wake County transit system with the intent of having a new finalized transit plan in July 2015.
Public discussion of transit officially began in December 2014. The kickoff week included a public input meeting, several small-group discussions with key community groups, and the first meeting of a Transit Advisory Committee (comprised of over 70 representatives from across the county) that was led through transit planning exercises. But the public input doesn’t stop there. Wake County is asking for input from all residents throughout the process. Questions and comments can be submitted through the program website, www.waketransit.org.
Making Choices: Ridership vs. Coverage
One of the most important factors in this discussion is that as a community with limited funding options, we must make choices about the goals of our future transit plan. The consultants are guiding this conversation, but the people of Wake County will tell them what we want in a transit system. This will include making some tough decisions.
For example: Do we want a frequent service that only serves heavy traffic corridors but has lots of riders? Or do we want a system that covers more area but has less frequent service and may not be as heavily used?
This discussion of ridership vs. coverage models will continue throughout the update process. The two are fundamentally opposite, but a decision must be made about how much of each is incorporated in the final plan. Throughout the process, the consultants will be asking the public and Advisory Team members difficult questions like this, so they have a better understanding of what type of system will work for our county.
Technology and Funding
You may be wondering what type of transit technology we’ll end up with, and how it will be paid for. Buses, commuter rail, Light rail, bus rapid transit? Jarrett Walker and Kimley-Horn have emphasized that technology will not be a focus of this process. The goal of this project is to set a general plan, focused on finding the transportation corridors where we want transit and determining what model will work best. Technology decisions will happen later, once we’re closer to the implementation phase.
Likewise, funding options are still flexible. Those decisions will be made locally, later in the process. However, it is important to have a budget in mind for planning purposes, so the new plan designs will be kept within the fiscal constraints of the money that would be raised through a 1/2 cent sales tax and vehicle registration fee increase. This 1/2 cent sales tax would generate at least $69 million (for 2015) and is projected to grow by 4% annually. It would be supplemented by a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees.
Wake County is Behind Other Counties
Durham and Orange County leaders and voters have already taken decisive action to advance bus and rail transit in their counties. In 2011, Durham voters approved a half-cent sales tax ballot, followed by Orange County approval in 2012. These counties are already collecting sales tax for transit and are expanding their bus systems and are beginning planning for light rail between Chapel Hill and Durham. Meanwhile, Wake has not acted on transit for years, and is perhaps being left behind. This new process is a key step forward!
Next Steps for the Plan
In March 2015, the consultants will present two alternative scenarios for transit in Wake, and the public will have time to comment on them. Then a final plan will be released, likely in July 2015.
The Wake Board of Commissioners must hold a public hearing on a plan proposal, vote to approve a plan, and then vote to put a referendum for funding on the voting ballot. This referendum will most likely be in 2016. In order for these elected officials to put the referendum on the ballot, they need to know that the public supports the plan. Let your local Wake County Commissioners, Mayors and City Councilors know that transit is important to Wake County!