Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Transit update from the Triangle

Interesting e-mail exchange a few days ago with Brad Schulz, communications officer for Triangle Transit, about what happens next in the places that won permission from the General Assembly to hold votes on adding a sales tax for transit. Schulz was a longtime broadcast journalist in Charlotte, mostly for WBT radio, who left to work for CATS 2000-2003 and joined Triangle Transit in the Research Triangle Park in 2003.

The new law says large counties can put a half-cent sales tax to a vote of the people; smaller ones get the option for a vote on a quarter-cent sales tax. County commissioners would have to decide to put the issue on the county ballot. And I haven't met a politician yet who thinks this year is a good one to take such a question before the voters – especially after the legislature recently popped a 1-cent sales tax increase on us to balance the state budget. But longer term, who knows?

Schulz wrote me, "It’ll be up to commissioners in Wake, Orange and Durham counties to call for a referend(um) (a) when they feel the time is right economically and when each county has a transit plan they feel adequate to answer future needs. ... Triangle Transit is assisting the counties with financial modeling right now on what sales taxes could be raised with a ½ cent and what the counties could provide in ramped-up bus service (much like CATS did) as it planned for light rail.

"The sales taxes would go for bus and rail improvements in the 2015-2025-2030 time frame for construction/completion (remember if you’re going in the federal queue [for funding] it usually takes 10-12 years from plan/design/construct/opening.

"BTW… it doesn’t take all three counties moving in tandem to begin bus and rail improvements. If one or two said yes and the other/others said no, we could still move forward with planning for that county.

But, one caveat is that all of the county plans should also fold into a rational regional transit plan that would one day allow us to connect Chapel Hill with North Raleigh with 51 miles of rail. Light rail is the preferred mode, instead of the diesel units we looked at before, for energy/fossil fuel/environmental-sustainability reasons.

A 29-member citizens commission reported out last spring that the region should be ready to go it alone if there were no federal funds available. The bill as passed ... would allow for 25% state funding – with that precedent set by NCDOT with the CATS Lynx South Corridor Project.

" ... Chances are that the Chambers (of Commerce) would be leading the charge for the ½ cent sales tax along with the business community. BTW… the owners and tenants association of the Research Triangle Park also agreed to raise their taxes in the park to help pay for transit improvements. "


Rick said...

If the voters in those counties are paying attention, they'll only approve the tax if it has a limited plan.

As Charlotte has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, a half cent transit tax has very limited capability and eventually Triangle Transit will be back for a second helping as CATS wanted to do before we dodged that bullet.

Anonymous said...

Oh, geez. For a second there, I thought she was talking about Brad Krantz (the guy who used to co-host with Richard Spires at WBT).

The image of him working at NC transit was just too perfect. Scary, but it would explain a lot...

Anonymous said...

If not for the economy, a commuter rail line to Mooresville would already be under construction. It along with a light rail extension to the University area remain the next two system priorities. But given the drop in sales tax receipts in this economy (not the ambitious system plan), the horizon year by which they are both completed may now be ten years farther out.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I worked at RDU for a couple of years. It is hard to imagine this area EVER building light rail. People are very naive when it comes to transit planning. Contrary to popular belief, the biggest driver of ridership is not the price of gas; it's $10 parking. Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill are all cities with plenty of free parking and even more cheap parking. These cities are also much less dense than Charlotte. You have to have or at least zone for density to make light rail work!

Rick said...

8/20/2009 09:45:00 Anon,

...and you've obviously bought or are part of selling the lie that "it's all and only the economy".

It's not.

Before the economy tanked CATs was already scounging for money from the Towns and Builders to construct the North Corridor because the 1/2 cent was not enough.

Before the economy tanked, the Northeast corridor cost had already started to escalate dramatically pushing groups like University City Partners to start the drum beat for more taxes. They originally wanted the existing 1/4 cent that is available to Mecklenburg and then they started pushing for Mecklenburg to be included in the HB 148 which would have given Meck another 1/2 cent transit tax. Fortunately the taxpayer dodged that bullet just a couple weeks ago.

Long, long before the economy tanked, the City of Charlotte took the Streetcar off the plate of the MTC becuase there wasn't enough money in the half cent to pay for it. They had to pay back the BPC for their votes in the transit tax repeal debate. That's also why they will override the veto Mayor McCrory delivered last night.

The 1/2 cent was never enough to deliver all the promises CATS and the politicians made - including McCrory. They lied repeatedly, and trying to exuse their past failures on the current economy is just another lie too.