Is Wake County Putting the Brakes on Bus Rapid Transit?

By Brent Woodcox

After passing a 1/2 percent sales tax increase in November of 2016, county leaders and transportation planners were hailing bus rapid transit as the future for public transportation in Raleigh and around Wake County. Now it appears they are taking a step back from that.

From the News & Observer...

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel is feeling confident about the Durham-Orange Light Rail project.

“This is actually going to happen, yo,” he said at a transportation summit Tuesday at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

“I really believe it now.”

One particular reason the first-term mayor was feeling confident was because Wake County officials recently did the $3.3 billion light-rail plan a big favor.

Two weeks ago, in an under-the-radar move, Schewel said, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) removed its bus rapid transit project from the current round of state funding competition – a pot of state money that projects must compete for.

“In order for us to get enough funding from the state we need very little competition in the regional pot,” Schewel said. “We asked them to withdraw those projects for now to give the Durham-Orange Light Rail a clearer path to funding, and they did. … It would’ve been a big hit if they hadn’t.”

CAMPO is responsible for the planning of Wake County and several surrounding counties’ transportation systems. It is the eastern Triangle counterpart of the Durham-Chapel-Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“It was a very generous move on their behalf,” said Patrick McDonough, manager of planning at GoTriangle, who said this will allow the light rail to maximize its amount of state funding.

The light-rail project, which is in the federal engineering phase currently, is contingent on federal money to pay half of the light-rail construction cost and state money to pay up to 10 percent. The counties would share the remaining $1.8 billion local cost and interest on debt that will bridge the years until state and federal money is available. ...
— Zachery Eanes - N&O

It's not clear how this will affect bus riders in Raleigh over the short term. Bus rapid transit will require land acquisition, planning of transit corridors and a long term strategic process. In the meantime, taxpayers will continue to pay higher sales taxes in Wake County based on a plan that is stalled for the moment.

Brent Woodcox