We are one region: Keeping the GoTriangle transit network plan in perspective

A GoTriangle illustration of a Durham-Orange Light Rail stop.
A GoTriangle illustration of a Durham-Orange Light Rail stop. Contributed

Every big public transit project has its share of controversies, as the Durham-Orange light rail transit project — our region’s first large transit project — is proving in spades.

Whether it’s Duke University concerns about the rail line’s path by its medical campus, or downtown Durham business worries over closing an unsafe at-grade road-rail intersection, or Chapel Hill and Durham neighbor apprehensions over potential operational noise, or the legislature changing state funding rules, the Durham-Orange light rail project has been much in the news since it was launched.

While all these issues are progressing toward resolutions, such hullabaloos by nature focus on the project in isolation. But it does not stand alone, and the Durham-Orange light-rail project needs to be seen in context. It is one vital component in the bigger picture of a regional transit network plan, a plan that includes light rail and a whole lot more to tie us all together.

Transit succeeds when it gives people choices that make it easy to use transit rather than driving and parking. A transit network effectively draws folks out of their cars based on how far it reaches places that most people want to go and how convenient it is to get there.

GoTriangle’s integrated network plan over the next ten years makes transit an attractive option to driving by combining regional reach with lots of connections and high-frequency services throughout the Triangle. As traffic congestion worsens, being able to choose transit over driving becomes ever more essential.

Regular I-40 drivers won’t be surprised to learn that the most congested roadway in North Carolina, with 195,000 cars per day, is I-40 near the Page Road exit. Driving U.S. 15-501 and N.C. 147 (the Durham Freeway) during busy periods is no picnic, either.

With job growth and 80 or more people moving to the Triangle area every day, traffic volumes are rising fast, and we can’t afford to build our way out of congestion. We need more and better transit options, and GoTriangle’s regional system plan is specifically designed to provide them.

Up to now most of us probably haven’t thought about transit in regional terms. It’s been easy to wall off our transit plan conceptions into purely county compartments. That’s partly a legacy of the Durham Transit Plan, Orange Transit Plan, and Wake Transit Plan being approved by voters in different years. It’s also partly because transit tax revenues must be spent in the origin counties.

But those individual county transit plans were and are part of a fully integrated GoTriangle regional network transit plan — and it’s the regional reach that gives the network its strength. After all, we are one region now, and we need to think in regional terms and to comprehend the value of the overall transit network to everybody, regardless of where we live or work in the Triangle.

Ten years from now, the exceptional GoTriangle regional bus network that already knits together Wake, Durham, and Orange counties will be enhanced by nearly 18 miles of frequent light-rail service connecting Durham and Orange counties and by 37 miles of commuter rail service between Wake and Durham counties. Easy connections between local bus, regional bus, light rail, and commuter rail in downtown Durham will tie transit services there together, making for an even more robust network.

The regional transit network becomes stronger still with Orange County connections to a new Chapel Hill bus rapid transit line, Wake connections to an expanded bus system footprint serving all 12 Wake County municipalities, commuter rail linking Wake to RTP and Durham, four new bus rapid transit corridors in Raleigh and Cary, and with many of those services offering 15-minute frequencies.

All these transit services unify to form a strong regional network. The process of individual county transit plans coming together into a whole is akin to 19th century quilting bees where a group of quilters worked to make separate parts of the same comforter. In the end it was joined into one consolidated fabric cover. In the same way, one of the greatest values of the GoTriangle regional transit system will be to integrate the three county plans to cover the most traveled areas of the Triangle with connected and frequent service.

We need to support GoTriangle’s well-designed regional transit network of services. Wake, Durham or Orange, light rail, bus rapid transit, commuter rail or bus, we will all benefit from the mobility choices available in the cohesive GoTriangle transit network as planned to come online over the next 10 years. We are one region. With transit as with everything else, we rise or fall together.

Will Allen is a member of the GoTriangle Board of Trustees and a member of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) executive board. Sig Hutchinson is a Wake County commissioner, member of the GoTriangle Board of Trustees and member of the CAMPO executive board.

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