Regional Transit Plan

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Plan for Regional Transit in the Triangle

Efforts to develop a vision for regional public transit began in 2007 when a group of civic leaders and transportation experts from Wake, Durham and Orange Counties were appointed to the Special Transit Advisory Commission (STAC).  They were charged with developing a regional, multi-modal transit plan, based on a thorough analysis of future growth, land use, travel patterns and cost.  In May 2008, the STAC released a vision for regional transit with a set of recommended transit investments and investment priorities. 

This plan connecting the Triangle counties was adopted by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO), the two transportation governing bodies.  These MPOs  incorporated the STAC Plan into the 2035 Long Range Transportation Plans in May 2009.  This was a milestone for regional growth planning!

Since then, Triangle Transit and local county and elected officials have been working to develop plan specifics, and assess financing.  An alternatives analysis process – that included extensive public input -- identified priority corridors for light rail and commuter rail.  Counties have also completed comprehensive bus studies.  Draft county plans have been released in 2011 for public and government review.

Durham County was first to take the action of approving its county plan in 2011. Voters approved a half cent sales tax referendum in November 2011 (by a 60%-40% vote), which will provide the local funding needed for Durham’s expanded bus plan and commuter rail that will run between Durham to RTP to Raleigh to Garner. In 2012, Orange County Commissioners approved their plan and voters passed their half cent sales tax referendum by 58%.

Is Wake County being left behind? A draft plan for Wake County was presented to the Wake Board of Commissioners in November 2011, but has not been acted upon because of the refusal of the Board leadership to allow a formal review of the plan. In 2014, the County along with Triangle Transit, CAMPO, and Raleigh and Cary’s bus systems are expected to take a fresh look at the plan and update it. Hopefully the proposal will eventually be approved by the Wake County Commissioners, then placed on the ballot for voter approval. Earliest likely date for a referendum would be October 2015.

Sales Tax Referendum is Key to Transit Plan

The transit plan cannot be implemented without a funding source. Ultimately, Triangle voters must decide via referendum to support a half-cent sales tax to fund the transit system. Hopefully Wake will follow Orange and Durham Counties and hold a referendum soon. The sales tax, combined with an increased vehicle registration fee, would fund the expanded bus and commuter rail services. Light rail would require significant additional funding, such as 50% federal funding and 25% state funding as well. Go to ‘Funding Transit’ to learn more.  Go to ‘Funding Transit’ to learn more.

The Regional Transit Plan includes: 

  • Expanded Bus Service - New buses and better service in first two - five years.  Expanded bus is critical to linking riders with jobs, universities, entertainment and more.
  • Express/Commuter Rail -  Miles of new commuter rail service to move residents across the region.  Commuter rail will include 12 stops (most with park and ride lots) and maximize the use of Amtrak, High Speed Rail and NC Commuter Rail.  Express rail links commuters with job centers, universities, and the airport, pulling two sides of region closer.  
  • Light Rail - Miles of new electric light rail serviceLight rail links neighborhoods for intra-city travel and shorter trips, and also promotes transit-oriented economic development.  Future light rail would connect Durham to Chapel Hill and downtown Cary to West Raleigh, NCSU, downtown Raleigh, and up to Millbrook Road.

Regional Vision Map

Durham/Wake County Commuter Rail Corridor

The Durham/Wake County Corridor could be served by commuter rail along the existing NCRR corridor from Durham through RTP and Downtown Raleigh toward the Wake-Johnston County line.  Click here to view more detailed maps, stations, and to learn more about the Durham/Wake commuter rail corridor.

Expanded Commuter Bus Service across the Triangle
Commuter bus service, serving travelers during peak hours of the day across the Triangle, will also see noticeable improvements in coverage and frequency of service if regional transit plan funding is successfully approved.  Click here to learn more about expanded commuter bus service.


Durham/Orange County Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit Corridor
The Durham/Orange County Corridor begins in Chapel Hill in the vicinity of the University of North Carolina Campus and roughly follows the US 15/501 corridor north to the City of Durham, where it turns eastward to follow the existing NCRR corridor to Alston Ave.  The Durham/Orange transit corridor could be served by either light rail or bus rapid transit.  Bus rapid transit is a relatively new technology that involves building bus lanes along an existing corridor that are utilized solely by bus rapid vehicles.  Click here to view more detailed maps, stations, and to learn more about the Durham/Orange transit corridor.

The 2035 Regional Long Range Transportation Plan provides:

Expanded and enhanced local and regional bus service providing service in and between communities throughout the region by:

  • Expanded bus service in core areas to support the rail and circulator investments, including increased frequency of service on heavily traveled routes with more weekend bus service
  • High frequency, express service between RDU and downtown Durham,  Raleigh and the Cary
  • Rush hour bus service to outlying communities
  • Park-and-ride facilities on principal commuter routes connected by bus service

Regional rail service will anchor the system connecting the region’s principal centers of activity by:

  • Rail investment in corridors projected to have our heaviest trip volumes with opportunities to shape future land use including 56 miles of rail transit connecting Chapel Hill, Durham, Research Triangle Park, Morrisville, Cary, Raleigh, Apex, Wake Forest and Clayton. 
  • Electric light rail transit will be used to depart from rail corridors and operate closer to transit oriented development along roadways saving energy costs and operating without dependence on foreign oil. 
  • Commuter rail service will operate at relatively higher speeds in mainline rail corridors, serving stations that are further apart and only providing service during the peak and noon hours. 

Transit circulators will create connections with expanded local and regional bus and rail services by:

  • Operating inside the principal centers of activity to provide high quality, high frequency connections including RTP/RDU Airport, Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill/Carrboro
  • Providing a seamless connection for major educational, medical, economic, and research facilities, park and ride lots and multimodal transit connections facilitating connections on the regional system

High Speed Rail

Express rail in the Triangle will be enhanced thanks to $545 million in federal high-speed rail money for North Carolina.  The funds will be used to get trains running faster and more often between Raleigh and Charlotte -- with top speed of 90 mph by 2015.  The high speed rail effort will be coordinated with the Triangle Regional Transit Plan, and will mean that local commuters will have more options to travel by train between Durham and Raleigh.  Funds also will be used to build important rail crossings in the Triangle.  These funds are a portion of $8 billion in stimulus funds given to several states to increase inter-city rail travel.  The proposed Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor would run between Washington-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte. Some funds will be used to develop the line between Raleigh and Washington, with top speeds of 110 mph and a later implementation date.
Click here to read more about the proposal. 

What people are saying about transit

According to polls by the Regional Transportation Alliance and Public Policy Polling, Triangle voters support a regional transit system, including light rail, buses, along with dedicated lanes for circulators in downtown areas. Voters identified travel to Research Triangle Park as their highest priority, with travel between counties also important to many respondents. In 2012, 60% of Wake voters said they would support a half cent sales tax to expand and improve bus service, create commuter rail, and initiate steps for light rail (May 2012, PPP poll).

Download the Wake County "PPP Transit Poll Results".

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