RTP leader urges regional rail investment

Feb. 03, 2014 @ 07:42 PM

Components of the Research Triangle Park redevelopment plan “count on” public investment in a regional rail system, the president of the nonprofit that manages the park said Monday.

Bob Geolas, president of the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, said park officials have located two planned clusters of higher-density development near two proposed rail states.

“Our board and this foundation are absolutely committed to seeing the implementation of a regional, dedicated rail to link our commuters and the Triangle region, and so much of our plan counts on that investment being made,” Geolas said.

But while Orange and Durham voters have passed half-cent sales tax increases for transit expenditures -- including raising money for a proposed regional rail system – Wake County officials have not.

Joe Durham, Wake County manager, said county public officials pledged to evaluate a referendum in 2013 on a sales tax hike for transit, but the referendum didn’t happen.

“There’s no date for a referendum; there’s not a significant interest in light rail,” he said.

Wake County leaders also had three outside consultants make transit-related recommendations, he said, and the conclusion from all three was, “no rail, not now.”

Also, according to previous reports in The Herald-Sun, a group called the Regional Transportation Alliance pushed in a position paper last year for Wake County leaders to move toward “bus rapid transit.”

“Light rail, one of the concerns that came from the consultants … is that the funding is not in place for that,” Durham said. “There’s an expectation, or an assumption, that a lot of it is going to be federally funded.”

Durham said Wake leaders will hold a discussion at a retreat later this month to consider setting a transit strategy for the year.

Geolas said an investment by the foundation announced Monday will encourage public investment in transit. The nonprofit announced that it paid about $17 million to take control of nearly 100 acres off Interstate 40, where it plans to launch a redevelopment project.

“The fact that we own the land today, the fact that we’re going to move forward with a site plan, in a short period of time … changes the dynamic (of the conversation),” he said. “This isn’t something we’re fixing to do.”

He said the amount of density that park leaders are looking to develop “speaks to a critical investment” needed on the public side for regional transit in the long-term.

“I think bus rapid transit has its place, it might be a fine short-term option; it’s not where we need to be focusing (in the long-term),” he said. “We need dedicated regional rail.”