Monday, September 20, 2010

A 'CATS' fight for transit money?

Looks as if the Charlotte Area Transit System may finally be getting some in-state competition for federal transit money for light-rail. The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Sunday ("Triangle Transit proposes 2 light-rail lines") that Triangle Transit, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill transit agency, is looking at two potential light rail routes. The TTA timetable has it applying to the Federal Transit Administration next summer and, in fall 2011, asking Triangle-area voters for a 1/2-cent sales tax to fund the transit plans.

"In a fall 2011 referendum, Triangle voters are expected to consider approving a half-cent sales tax - which would add 5 cents to every taxable $10 purchase - that would cover a large share of new bus and rail costs."

For now, the TTA has dropped its earlier idea of commuter rail to the Research Triangle Park. It's looking at light rail instead, because light rail – which is powered by overhead electric wires – need not run on a railroad right of way as it does in Charlotte, but can run in the streets as well, i..e., as a streetcar. (For terminology geeks, just fyi, "heavy rail" doesn't mean Amtrak-like passenger rail. It means a rail system powered by an electrified rail on the bottom, like subways, with the so-called "third rail," hence the allusions to a "third rail" that one must never touch without deadly effect.)

The N&O's Bruce Siceloff reports:
"So, at public meetings last week and this week, Triangle Transit officials and consultants are explaining that the first light-rail trains will not run through the region's suburban center. The two most promising corridors are about 20 miles apart in the western Triangle and Wake County:

- Northwest Cary through N.C. State University and downtown to Triangle Town Center in North Raleigh, 18 miles. It rates high in projected rider counts, job and housing density, development potential, and capital costs compared to the number of weekday transit trips.

- UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to Alston Avenue in downtown Durham, 17 miles. It rates high in rider counts, low-income residents who are more likely to depend on transit, and capital and operating costs. This corridor is rated weak in housing density and development potential.

And don't read right over that part about "bus." A close relative of mine was trying to get to Chapel Hill from the Durham Amtrak station on Labor Day and realized, with some shock, that the TTA's Chapel Hill-Durham bus didn't run on the holiday. Better bus service in the Triangle would likely be welcomed by many.

TTA is also looking at "a limited kind of region-wide rail service that was not in the cards a few years ago. Commuter trains pulled by standard diesel locomotives are proposed to run from west Durham to the Wake-Johnston county line. These trains would operate on weekday rush hours, every 30 or 60 minutes, and make stops in RTP."

I was joking when I wrote that headline about a CATS fight. While CATS and every other transit agency in the country knows competition is tight for federal money, in the long run it's probably better for all N.C. cities to have multiple mass transit systems. That way the N.C. DOT, the legislature and all the entities holding the money bags – not to mention the voting (and riding) public – can get their heads around the concept that "transportation" means more than just private-auto transportation.

Anyway, the CATS fight currently is what's going on in the Mecklenburg County Metropolitan Transit Commission, between backers of the proposed commuter rail to North Mecklenburg and those of the being-built-but-rather-slower-than-planned extension of light rail to UNC Charlotte.


Anonymous said...

Will be serious competition for Charloot!

Anonymous said...

We should be good Southern neighbors and help the Triangle out.

We should send a delegation of citizens to the Triangle to warn them that whatever rail line is built, it will come online at least 5 years late and at double the original budget. We can also tell them that the government officials assure them that all costs will be covered, because the sales tax revenue will increase by 5% every single year, from now until infinity. All the mistakes and blunders, of course, will be blamed on others or circumstances that no human could ever forsee, no matter how obvious the mistakes and blunders are.

They'll need that info before they get in those voting booths.

Jumper said...

For them to do it in a recession is a reasonable way to warm up the economy. Wish we'd waited.

A long but very good article on all things government here. The rest of the writer's site on how people fool themselves is very good as well.

Bréanainn Séaghdha said...

Traveling down Trade street this morning I noticed that the section from the Transportation Center down to CPCC was strung with DOT traffic counters. A good indication that the engineering is underway for the streetcar line!

Anonymous said...


Just wondering if you would like to comment on all the money we waste on transit, bike lanes, greenway projects, etc, while our judicial systems lets our repeat, repeat, repeat, offenders who end up killing an innocent victim?

I am blaming the liberal establishment who puts justice and crime provention at the bottom of the priority list.

I'm sure this comment will never see the light of day.

Anonymous said...

Mary, you belong in San Fransico.

Anonymous said...

"9/20/2010 04:58:00 PM "

Way to step up. I'm surprised your comment is still up.

Jumper said...

good reading.

Anonymous said...

Raleigh Durham has way more sports games (perfect for mass transit) at Duke, UNC, NC State where you have to park miles from the game and ride a bus or tram, huge hospitals (UNC, Duke medical centers where parking is impossible and you have to ride a bus to get to the campus), just as many arena and ampitheater concerts as Charlotte, State Fair and other large fairground events that attract hundreds of thousands. I think the students would make better use of the Triangle transit than the Charlotte uptown commuters. If Charlotte could reach its Universities, maybe it would help.

Anonymous said...

The real transit fight brewing is within Charlotte. On MTC.

It's a battle between North and Northeast Corridors. And maybe even now Streetcar.

Anonymous said...

The real fight brewing is within Charlotte. On MTC. For a new (2035?) System Plan.