When I listen to the recording, I'll tell you exactly how many times Mayor Nancy McFarlane used the words transit or transportation this morning as she introduced Ruffin Hall, the new city manager. For now, I'll just say it was a theme — THE theme, really — that Raleigh intends to get transit off the ground as its next big thing, and Hall is being counted on to help make that happen.
Charlotte got the jump on Raleigh transit-wise in the '90s and has extended its lead every year since. Today, the Queen City has 15 years of progress under its belt. Raleigh? Zero years — or maybe we should be generous and say that the R Line counts for a month or two of progress.
Hall made an excellent first impression on his audience today. He's a polished, user-friendly public speaker and — here's another word McFarlane used repeatedly — "communicator." Russell Allen had many strengths as a manager. Communications, at least when it came to the public and the six City Council members who fired him, wasn't one of them.
Also, Allen seemed bored by development issues, or perhaps a better way to say it is that Allen gave every appearance of thinking that Raleigh isn't ready for transit. Hall, when I got a brief word with him, said he wanted to study the lay of the land before commenting specifically on Raleigh's transit potential. But he added that he's all about connecting land-use and transportation policies so they work in tandem.
"My background in Charlotte was very focused on transportation, transit and the relationship to land-use," Hall said. "That relationship is critical, to me, in high-growth communities."
The other knock on Allen, from the council members who lost patience with him, is that his concept of teamwork in city government didn't extend beyond the staff members who reported to him. Allen was popular with his staff. But the six council members who fired him — McFarlane included — got the message from Allen that he viewed them as not on his team, and maybe even an opposing team.
Thus, an excited McFarlane talked up Hall's commitment to the kind of teamwork that includes the Council and the public. And when Hall got up to speak, the big words out of his mouth were collaborations and partnerships, and he added nonprofit organizations, neighborhood leaders, institutions (e.g., NCSU) and the business community to the list of partners he intends to cultivate.
McFarlane called Hall a visionary, creative and a lot of other glowing words; today, at least, he exuded positive energy.
Capital Area Friends of Transit is an alliance of groups working for better bus and — eventually — light-rail transit offerings for Wake County. They've launched a petition drive in an effort to pressure/convince the Wake County Board of Commissioners to allow a public referendum on the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit which was authorized by the General Assembly four years ago — and which the Wake Commissioners, under Republican control, have blocked ever since.
If you think Wake County voters have a right to decide this question, you'll want to sign the petition. Follow this link.
The 1/2-cent tax is already approved by Durham and Orange Counties. Not to get all Raleigh chauvinist about it, but Durham is threatening to be cooler than we are, kids.
Which is probably why Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is featured in this short video produced by CAFT and Wake Up Wake County:
On Friday, we reported the good news about Raleigh's Union Station, Phase 1: It's fully funded at $60 million. In the buildup to that announcement, I heard one other, discordant note. If and when Raleigh adds commuter-rail and high-speed rail service to the current, very limited repertoire of Amtrak trains running through town, the rail corridor coming into the Union Station complex will need to be widened.
Why? To make room for additional sets of tracks for the trains and for the platform that will service the high-speed line.
And what's in the way of widening the corridor? The warehouse buildings that the Triangle Transit Authority sold and Citrix, the software firm, plans to occupy as its new Raleigh headquarters.
The picture above, which I snapped one night last week when I was in the area, shows just how close to the Citrix buildings the train tracks already are. When I raised that issue with Paul Morris, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation and DOT's point man on all things railroad, he confirmed that he's in talks with Citrix. "At some point in the future, we'll need to lop off the one bay that is closest to the tracks," Morris said.
"It won't come without a cost," Morris added.
In other words, because TTA sold the buildings to private owners, DOT will be forced to pay to get a slice of them taken off. DOT contributed 25 percent of the purchase price when TTA bought the buildings from Dillon Supply Company a decade ago, but it was never a co-owner, Morris said. Most of the money came from a federal grant.
When the TTA sold them for a reported $2 million, DOT received 25 percent of the sale price.
Morris said DOT was aware, prior to TTA's decision to sell the buildings, that the TTA was thinking of unloading them. DOT did not know of the talks with Citrix, and with the developers (Crown and Cherokee) who were offering to be the middlemen in the transaction, until the Indy and others reported on the deal in the spring.
The buildings in question are located west of West Street between West Morgan Street on the north and West Hargett Street on the south. (Union Station, Phase 1, is another block to the south.)
The decision to sell the buildings to private developers throws the TTA's own light-rail transit plans into confusion because, as things stand now, the light-rail line in downtown Raleigh is supposed to run on West Morgan Street. Until TTA sold off the buildings, it was thought that they'd be renovated to serve as the light-rail station and integrated into a grand Union Station scheme put together by the city in 2010. (Click on this link for background on all that.)
Instead, they were sold for use by Citrix, and are now more or less in the way of any connection between the new Amtrak/commuter rail/high-speed rail station that is Union Station, Phase 1 and a light-rail stop on West Morgan.
According to city and state transportation officials, the West Morgan Street route is now being reconsidered. It's possible the light-rail route will be pushed to West Hargett Street, an alignment the city rejected earlier because of elevation changes that would require a bridge — a bridge that would cut off one or more city streets when it came back to ground.
Light-rail is thought to be a long decade or even two away from happening in Raleigh.
On the other hand, commuter-rail trains (Amtrak-like service, but limited to a route using the existing rail corridor from Garner/Johnston County to Raleigh to Durham) could be a reality in less than a decade.
Meanwhile, DOT and its Virginia counterpart continue to plow ahead on plans for the Southeast High-Speed Rail service with the hope of obtaining a major federal grant in a second Obama Administration. "Best case" for launching high-speed rail in Raleigh, Morris guessed, is 7-10 years.
City Planning and Economic Development Director Mitchell Silver told me last week that he's asked the Citrix design team to create an "arcade" passageway so passengers can walk comfortably between the Amtrak/commuter rail station down at West Martin Street and a future light-rail station on West Morgan. Without some passageway, that's a 3 1/2-block trek on the sidewalk.
Morris, meanwhile, is suggesting that Citrix design its new headquarters so that the west edge can be taken off when the corridor is widened. DOT will pay for an easement. Failing that, it would be forced to condemn the entire property, either now — before the renovations - or later, when the Citrix complex would presumably be worth a good deal more.
One high-ranking DOT official told me privately that the TTA sale could end up costing the state $10 million.
$10 million? I asked Morris. "That's if we're forced into condemnation," he said. "The good news is, we're in talks with Citrix already."
The even better news, Morris added a bit later, is that Union Station is becoming a reality, moving the need for compatible building designs on adjacent properties out of the realm of the merely hypothetical. "We're in pretty good shape now because of it," he said.
I see that it was just 15 months ago — last June — when the state DOT made its first public pitch for turning the old Dillon Supply fabrication building, also known as the Viaduct Building, into a new Amtrak station for downtown Raleigh.
The Viaduct Building wasn't part of the city's grand Union Station scheme (for background, click on the link above), but it's turning out to be a great add-on — in City Hall-speak, it's now Union Station, Phase 1.
Meanwhile, the grand plan's been scaled back because of the Triangle Transit Authority's decision to sell one of the two other Dillon Supply buildings it purchased years ago.
That's the building fronting on the west side of West Street between West Morgan and West Hargett streets. It's the one ticketed for use by by Citrix, a software company.
TTA still owns the the building on the south side of West Hargett, in between the Citrix building and the Viaduct Building. And it owns the Viaduct Building, which it's contributing to the Union Station cause.
More on the situation with the Citrix building soon, but for now, here's today's good news as provided by the city's public information staff:
FULL FUNDING FOR RALEIGH’S
UNION STATION PROJECT IS ANNOUNCED
Mayor Nancy McFarlane welcomed Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo to Raleigh today for the announcement that the Union Station Project will receive the full $60 million in funding. The announcement was made at a morning press conference at the Viaduct Building, 510 West Martin Street Downtown.
The Mayor said that monies from the City, state and federal coffers and contributions from transit groups, totaling more than $60 million, have been committed to building Union Station and the supporting track work.
“The Union Station Project is a major step toward transforming Raleigh’s transportation network to that of a world-class, 21st-century city,” Mayor McFarlane said. “The partnerships that have made this project a reality are an example of governments working together to build an infrastructure that will promote economic development and the best quality of life for our citizens.”
Also speaking at the press conference, North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said hard work and tireless effort helped to secure the funding. “This is a clear cut example of how when local, state and federal groups work hand-in-hand, wonderful things can happen,” he said. “Congratulations to the City of Raleigh for having such vision.”
The $15.1 million from North Carolina’s $545 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) award will be used to help build Union Station. Additionally, $466,000 in federal dollars and a $250,000 match from the City and the state provide the final piece of funding.
The City is working with the Federal Railroad Administration, North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Triangle Transit Authority, which is providing its Downtown Viaduct facility worth approximately $1.4 million, for the building of the new Union Station. The City also has partnered with Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and the North Carolina Railroad Company.
The City of Raleigh began a study in September 2010 in search of a multimodal transportation center. A North Carolina Department of Transportation study concluded the project was feasible and calculated the cost to be approximately $60 million. In June of this year, a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant totaling $21 million was awarded to the Union Station project.
North Carolina Department of Transportation engineers anticipant the project design will begin in January, with construction starting in January of 2014. Construction of the new Raleigh Union Station project is expected to be completed in January 2017.
The existing Raleigh Transit Station served 192,000 passengers in 2011, which was a 17 percent increase over 2010. The station is serving a ridership which far exceeds its waiting area and parking capacity, preventing growth in passenger ridership and revenue across the state, according to North Carolina Department of Transportation officials.
[Update, 6/19: Here are a few paragraphs from a story I wrote today for this week's Indy —
First and foremost, Wake County will not vote in November on a ½-cent sales tax increase for transit, the only funding mechanism provided for local governments by the General Assembly. Wake County’s Republican-led Board of Commissioners continues to block the vote. Orange County voters will get to decide the question this fall. Durham voters approved the ½-cent tax last year; the county is waiting for one of its two Triangle partners to join it.
But the Wake board not only won’t allow the public to vote, it has refused to even listen to the transit plan put together—at its direction—by County Manager David Cooke and David King, general manager of the Triangle Transit Authority, working with Wake’s 12 municipal governments.
“Nah,” was Wake Commissioners Chair Paul Coble’s dismissive response when a Democratic member, Erv Portman, asked two weeks ago that the Cooke-King plan, on the shelf all year, be presented to the board in a work session this month.
On Monday, Portman made an impassioned argument in favor of at least discussing the plan in coming weeks—and scheduling a public hearing—while there’s still time to consider whether to place the sales-tax increase on the ballot this fall. Portman’s two fellow Democrats, Betty Lou Ward and James West, agreed, saying Wake’s voters have a right to decide on the plan—and the tax.
They were outvoted by the four Republican members, however. None of the Republicans said anything until Coble, after the 4-3 vote, delivered a one-word epitaph: “Fails.”
Coble’s word was the last, dispiriting one in a meeting that began five hours earlier and was dominated by dozens of citizens who spoke during the public comment period, pleading with or demanding that the commissioners allow the 1/2-cent tax to go to referendum.
By the time the commissioners voted, after first considering a landfill permit and other routine business, most of the citizens were gone.
“The Wake transit plan has been on the table since last November,” the Capital Area Friends of Transit, a citizens group, complained in a statement the next day, “yet the board majority has blatantly stalled it, refusing to put this to a vote or referendum of the people.”
The original post is below —
Transit advocates are planning to be at the Wake County Board of Commissioners meeting today (2 p.m., Wake Courthouse) asking them to put the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit on the November ballot. (A statement from Capital Area Friends of Transit is appended below.) Is there any chance that will happen?
But that's not the right question just yet. The better question — because it's the only one with a chance of getting a positive response — is whether the Commissioners will listen to and actually consider the Wake plan developed by the Triangle Transit Authority and their own county manager, David Cooke.
If Cooke is allowed to present the plan in the next several weeks, it could start a process by which one or more of the four Republican commissioners begins to think about the benefits of transit, not just the costs.
No guarantee of that, of course; and in fact, the more likely outcome is that Cooke presents (or doesn't) and the Republican opposition remains unchanged.
But it seems to me a certainty that, if pushed to say, today, if they'll allow the 1/2-cent tax to go to referendum in 2012, the Republicans' answer will be no. A flat, final no.
Commissioners Chair Paul Coble is already dug in on the question. If he stays dug in, it forces Tony Gurley, Joe Bryan and Phil Matthews to either back him up or go against him — and they won't go against him.
On the other hand, it would be reasonable for Coble to move to a position of "let the voters decide ... let's get it over with." In fact, I can imagine Coble wanting to do just that, if the advocates back off just a bit and ask, not for a referendum, but simply a report, with a public hearing and process of genuine consideration to follow about whether to go to referendum this year.
Two reasons why I think the Coble-GOP majority might want to allow a vote this year:
1) 2012 is the year when a transit referendum in Wake is least likely to amp up progressive voter turnout and threaten Republican candidates running on the same ballot. If the vote is pushed back to 2013, it would presumably be held in October, coincidental with the traditionally low-turnout Raleigh and Cary elections and school board elections in districts where the Republicans will expect to win — but not if there's an increased turnout of Democrats supporting transit.
Then in 2014, the four Republican commissioners themselves are up for re-election.
2012, on the other hand, promises to be a big turnout year for Democrats regardless of a transit referendum because it's a presidential election year and the Obama campaign is going all-out in Wake County. The three Wake Commissioners seats on the ballot are already held by Democrats, so the Republicans will retain control when they lose them, as they will.
The Republicans won't be worse off, in other words. Except if they hate transit that much.
2) After the July 17 runoff elections, Tony Gurley may well be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Until the runoff, the chances Gurley will vote to put a transit tax on the ballot — emphasis on the word tax — are zero. It just can't happen while he's running in a statewide Republican primary. But after the runoff, if he wins, Gurley will surely want to appeal to independent voters. And what better way than to take the very reasonable position that transit has its virtues and anyway, the General Assembly said the voters should decide on the 1/2-cent, so by golly, independent-thinking Tony Gurley is going to let them!
A lovely theory, I know, especially regarding Gurley. "It's probably wishful thinking" to believe he'd ever vote for a November referendum, he told me on Friday. Transit's important, he added, but other priorities rank higher for him, and we're in a recession.
Still, Gurley said, if the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce asked him to back a referendum because the transit plan would be good for business in Wake County, "I would think about it. It doesn't cost me anything to think about it."
As for the Chamber, CEO Harvey Schmitt has been telling transit advocates — as he did in an email one shared with me — that his organization is pro-transit (though it has no formal position on the David Cooke/TTA plan). But, as Schmitt also wrote:
"... it is our considered opinion that the Board of Commission majority will not be swayed by pressure to take action at this point in time and indeed shows of force will be responded to by reactions that will make it harder to succeed."
In other words, Gurley can — and does — point to "lukewarm" support for a November referendum from the Chamber ... and the Chamber says its lukewarm is because Gurley, Coble & Co. won't be swayed whatever they do.
Remember, if a referendum is held, it falls mainly to the Chamber to raise the money for a pro-transit campaign, which will be much harder to do if the Republican Party is united in opposition. Ideally, a referendum would have bipartisan support. Failing that, it would have enough support that the other side doesn't fight it.
I talked with Schmitt late Friday afternoon. He wants to "de-escalate" the debate, he said. "My hope is that we can get through this in a way that we can continue the conversation [about transit]. We should have that conversation."
That'd be my hope as well. I know from experience that very few people are well-informed about what's in the transit plan and what they'd be getting for their 1/2-cent. For all the focus on light-rail routes, the truth is the plan is mostly buses. Commuter buses and commuter trains to carry people into and out of Raleigh-Cary-RTP for work. It shouldn't really be controversial.
Call me naive, but it seems like if Cooke made his presentation in the next three weeks, and a public hearing were held in July to air the costs and benefits of the plan, and if Gurley wins his runoff, then a consensus might form by early August around the idea that transit would be good for business, and building a transit system over the next decade in Wake County could be a major jobs-producer for Raleigh and its suburbs.
August is late for a referendum campaign to begin. But if it follows on a consensus-building process that begins today, it needn't be too late. (I've changed this sentence on reflection — I said late August initially, but with early voting, I think the schedule moves up some.)
[Update, 6/8, 2:30 pm. I've spoken to several city officials now, including Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Councilor Thomas Crowder. Nobody wants to say anything on the record about Citrix. That's all very hush-hush and a real estate deal still to be made. But as to whether TTA told the city that it was planning to sell the warehouse building in the first place, all said they think the answer is no.
McFarlane and Crowder said on the record that that they were not aware that the property was for sale. Both said further that they were weren't told when TTA received an offer nor were they told that TTA was advertising the property thereafter for the legally required 30 days — the upset-bid process — to see whether a better offer was available.
Councilor Russ Stephenson commented on the original post this morning, and I responded to him — as you can see below — with that same question. Did the Council not know that TTA was selling the property? When I called him, he was heading into a meeting,
but I'll be checking with him shortly ... just spoke with him: Stephenson didn't know anything about the sale of the building until Monday or Tuesday, when he found out about it in the course of conversation with a county economic development official involved in the Citrix incentives deal.]
The original post follows from yesterday at about 8 pm —
Does the Citrix announcement today mean the city's plan for a grand multi-modal transit station in the Warehouse District — a fabulous "Union Station" — is dead?
I'd say so.
R.I.P. one more attempt to build a great city in Raleigh. Or maybe there's a Plan B?
The upshot of the Citrix news, if what I'm hearing is correct, will be that a light-rail station on the west side of downtown, if and when it's built, would either be cut off from the other transit facilities (Amtrak, the commuter-rail service) two blocks away, or ...
... the light-rail stop will need to be put somewhere other than on West Morgan Street, where it's slated to be.
So dust off all those alt. light-rail routes and schemes (down West Hargett Street; over the Boylan Bridge; sweeping to the south where the Convention Center is) that were considered and rejected not long ago by the Raleigh City Council.
The Council decided on the West Morgan Street route for light-rail — and decided the station location — less than a year ago.
And it endorsed the Union Station plan, which is dated September 2010. You can read it:
But if I'm right about Citrix, those decisions will need to be revisited. Because Cintrix wants to be — will be — where the Union Station was going to be.
Through an intermediary, Citrix is apparently in the process of buying a portion of the Union Station site — specifically, one of the two big warehouse buildings that occupies the site — from Triangle Transit, which owns it. TTA General Manager David King confirmed that the building is up for sale.
Meanwhile Raleigh, with its glittering plan for a Union Station not old enough even to have dust on its shelf, is apparently uninterested in purchasing a building that's critical to making its plan a reality.
Ah, well. Maybe there's a Plan B?
None of this is official, and in fact the financial support that Raleigh's promised to Citrix is in return for jobs somewhere in the city, without any reference to where they should be.
That said, the evidence that Citrix is buying part of the Union Station site is compelling.
Yesterday, the social media were buzzing about a big deal coming soon to the Warehouse District.
Today, we have the announcement, by Mayor Nancy McFarlane and N.C. Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco, that Citrix Systems is looking to expand its operations in Raleigh. The state is kicking in money in the form of a Job Development Investment Grant. Raleigh's adding money from its incentives fund. The grants are tied to job creation targets. Citrix, the city says, will
... create 339 new, permanent, full-time positions with an average wage of $70,914. The new jobs are to be created over the next five years. In the same time frame, Citrix Systems will make a capital investment of between $11 million and $26 million in Downtown Raleigh to house the workforce of more than 450.
Citrix employs more than 100 people in Raleigh now in an office just outside the Beltline (in Laurel Hills). They want to move downtown into space suitable for 450 or more. Where could that be?
The exact location of the facility has not been disclosed. With a vacancy rate hovering around 10 percent, downtown Raleigh has few large blocks of vacant space available. Given the amount of money Citrix plans to invest in the new location, the company may be more likely to renovate an existing property rather than have a new building constructed.
When I heard that Citrix, notwithstanding the N&O report, has in fact fixed on one of the West Street buildings, I called David King. He didn't know anything about Citrix, he said. But yes, Triangle Transit received an unsolicited offer for one of the buildings a few months ago — the one which occupies almost all of the block between West Morgan and West Hargett Streets.
The only part of the block the building doesn't occupy is the little garage that fronts on West Morgan — the Men at Work garage — where the TTA's light-rail stop is supposed to go.
Anyway, according to King, Triangle Transit accepted the offer as an upset bid (a floor), advertised for buyers to beat it, and got no takers. So the building is ticketed for sale to the only bidder, which is a partnership of Cherokee Investment Partners and the Crown Company, King said. He said it's his understanding that they are acting on the part of a "tenant."
That would be Citrix, according to other sources.
The sale is subject to approval by the Federal Transportation Administration and the state, King said, because it was their money — or 75 percent of it — that TTA used to buy it. And if it's sold, they'll get 75 percent of the proceeds, and TTA only 25 percent.
King, for his part, said he was "never that excited" about the Union Station concept, and in any event the building they're selling isn't integral to his agency's plans today.
OK, but it sure was integral to Raleigh's.
Raleigh's been eyeing (with the state DOT) another of the warehouse buildings, the old Viaduct Building on the northwest side of the West Street-Martin Street intersection as a potential new home for Amtrak, of an Amtrak-like commuter-rail service that would operate between Durham and Garner, and for the Southeast High-Speed Rail service, should it ever materialize.
There's a second warehouse building on the north side of the Viaduct Building that TTA isn't selling and that is now being looked at, King said, as a potential bus station for the West Side. Stay tuned for news there.
It was that second building and the third one, the one Triangle Transit is selling, that were to be the raw material for the Union Station plan. It called for a two-blocks long grand concourse that would bring together all of the transportation elements, including Amtrak and commuter rail and high-speed rail and light-rail and bus, in one great hall.
The concourse was supposed to be multi-level, with stores and restaurants and perhaps some sort of people-mover — like they use in airports — to help folks get from one end of of Union Station to the other. Could there be offices in there too? Sure. Apartments above? Maybe.
I mean, read the Union Station plan. T'was something:
Raleigh Union Station will dramatically change the look and feel of the west side of downtown. Currently a low-density collection of warehouses and vacant land, Raleigh Union Station stands to change the economic development potential of the area and offers the following advantages:
• Increases transit use
• Establishes a transit identity
• Allows for future modes
• Ties together western edge of downtown
• Anchors the downtown circulator
• Creates a gateway destination
• Maximizes developable space/parcels
And from page 64 of the plan:
The general development concept for the project area is to develop the Triangle Transit owned properties (generally the two blocks bound by West Morgan Street, South West Street, West Martin Street and the rail tracks as well as a portion of the “Wye” interior) as a new Union Station that will provide multi-modal transit services and also include a significant amount of mixed-use development within the development on these properties. The strategy also seeks to surround Union Station with additional mixed use development of sufficient quantity to contribute significantly to the vitality and success of the station and the downtown as a whole.
Yes, It was all pretty conceptual — exception for the location. The location was critical.
But if Citrix buys the third warehouse building and cuts it off from the others, that will mean a passenger arriving, say, on the commuter-rail line from Garner and wanting to switch to the light-rail line to get over to the State Government complex, would be forced to go outdoors and walk around the Citrix building to make the connection.
Or is there another way? King thought there were options other than a concourse — "There's all sorts of ways," he said — to connect the light-rail station to the other rail and bus platforms without going through the building that his agency's put up for sale.
You could go around it on the sidewalk, he said. Or you could build a walkway over it. Or build a grand something or other out over the railroad tracks.
You could do a lot of things, I suppose. But the Union Station plan was a pretty good one when Raleigh Planning and Economic Development Director Mitchell Silver unveiled it. As he told WRAL:
"You want to have a grand waiting hall like other cities – Washington, New York," Silver said. "(It would move Raleigh) to the 21st century to have a grand space for passengers and (for) welcoming people into the city."
If that plan's dead, what's the new plan?
Orange County will be voting on the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit in November. That decision was made by the Orange County Board of Commissioners last night.
Durham County, of course, has already passed the 1/2-cent tax in a referendum.
A presentation by Cooke would start a process that could result in Wake County also voting in November — at the same time as Orange County — on the 1/2-cent tax issue. Delaying Cooke's report any longer, Portman said, probably means killing the transit-tax question for 2012 without the BOC even discussing it.
To which Chairman Paul Coble, speaking for the Republican majority, said dismissively: "Nah."
He didn't say no. The word Coble used was — nah.
"We are not driven by the desires of special interest groups to put something on the ballot," Coble added a bit later.
Before this exchange occurred — it came at the very end of Monday's meeting — I spoke with County Manager David Cooke about the status of the Wake transit plan. Cooke brought a finished proposal to the BOC on November 14. That's going on seven months ago. The BOC heard it and set it aside.
Since then, Cooke and David King, general manager of Triangle Transit, have visited every municipal government in the county presenting the plan and getting their feedback. The feedback has been positive.
The munis haven't raised a lot of issues with the plan, Cooke said, probably because it represents "a compilation" of what they asked for in the first place — through their representatives at CAMPO.
"It's not my plan," Cooke said, when I asked him whether he regards it as his, or his and King's. "It is meant to be a bottom-up plan based on what people see as the needs of the future."
That certainly describes the bus portion of the plan, which is all the 1/2-cent tax is going to pay for — at least for several years.
The rail portion, as Cooke said, contains the routes and service frequencies that Triangle Transit has concluded from its federally funded "alternative analysis" are the most feasible for the region should federal and state funding be available to build them.
A commuter-rail line from Garner to Durham could be operational within a decade, with stops about three miles apart and focused on bringing folks to work in downtown Raleigh, downtown Cary, RTP and downtown Durham.
A light-rail system within Wake County, with stops a mile apart or less — and much more frequent service than the commuter-rail line — is more than a decade away, probably a lot more.
(If Orange County passes the 1/2-cent tax, light-rail service between Chapel Hill and Durham will be running years before anything gets on the ground in Cary-Raleigh.)
But to be clear, the decision about whether or not to approve a 1/2-cent transit tax in Wake County isn't about whether Wake will build rail lines. It will build them if it has a 1/2-cent tax ... and if federal and state money is available ... and if the BOC decides that it wants them.
In the first place, though, the 1/2-cent tax is about buses, and whether Wake County will have the money to support the improved system of bus transportation that the local officials in every municipality are saying they need.
This is the decision that Coble and the Republican majority on the BOC are not only stopping the public from making, but are refusing even to talk about in time to keep the possibility of a referendum alive this year.
This, as Portman says, is after the BOC made a decision about the transit tax part of its work plan for 2010, but didn't discuss it ... and for 2011, but didn't discuss it ... and it's part of the work plan for 2012, and they're not discussing it.
Is Cooke ready to make a presentation? I asked. (Remember, this was before the Portman-Coble exchange.)
"We're still working on some final numbers," Cooke said. "But the plan's not going to be modified greatly, based on the feedback from the municipalities, so we could essentially do that [present it] at any time."
Interestingly, if you go to the Wake County website, you'll find a concise summary of the report from November with a link to the full (58 MB) version.
It outlines next steps: 1) Visits with the munis; 2) BOC considers their feedback in the spring; 3) BOC decides whether to call for a November referendum.
Where I come from, spring means March to May, and June is summer. But even if you think June is late spring, the BOC — led by Coble and Tony Gurley, who's in a runoff in July for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor (Motto: Why do we need any taxes?) — is refusing to do its job.
Here's the plan's outline for spending:
Wake County’s share of the five-year bus plan would be $138.3 million of the total $344 million cost for both capital and operating. Bus services currently receive some state and federal funding, which would cover the remainder.
Commuter rail would cost $650 million. Wake County’s share would be $330 million, and Durham would pay $320 million. Commuter rail is projected to be in place in 2019 or 2020.
Light rail is estimated to cost $1.1 billion (2011 dollars), to construct the rail line and pay for stations and park-and-ride lots. Operating costs would be $14 million per year. This portion of the Transit Plan will not be implemented without state and federal funding.
With the 1/2-cent sales tax added to existing funding streams from federal and state sources, Wake County could afford its bus plan and the commuter-rail element of the rail plan, Cooke told me. Light-rail is what's costly, and it can't be done without new funding from federal and sources to cover 75 percent of projected costs.
It's been three years since the General Assembly passed the bill allowing voters in Wake, Durham and Orange counties to decide whether they want to build a public transit system, i.e., add a 1/2-cent sales tax for transit in their respective counties.
Durham voters approved the 1/2-cent tax last year. The vote in the referendum was lopsided in favor.
Orange hasn't voted yet, but the Orange commissioners are expected to put the question on the ballot this year.
And then there's Wake.
Wake hasn't voted, and unless the solid bloc of Republicans (Chairman Paul Coble & Co.) opposed to letting us vote cracks a little, we're not going to be allowed to vote this year ...
... and we probably won't be allowed to vote next year either, because next year is ticketed for a much-needed Wake schools bond referendum.
This is, quite simply, not acceptable. The Republicans who control the Wake Board of Commissioners don't have to be in favor of transit. They can put the question on the ballot this year and urge everyone to vote no if they like. (They had no trouble urging everybody to vote yes on the Amendment One question; fortunately, 57 percent of Wake voters disagreed with them.) But by blocking a vote, they're thwarting the public will — and the law.
And by the way, Durham's tax isn't effective until a second county OK's it too. (That's the law.) But if Durham and Orange approve the tax and Wake doesn't, stay tuned for progress on a light-rail line from Chapel Hill to Durham, and a modern bus system in the western part of the Triangle, leaving CAry, Raleigh and points east to choke on our cars and overpriced gasoline fumes.
So today, WakeUP Wake County, the good government group, is out with a poll showing strong support in the electorate for transit and for a transit tax — and WakeUP is calling on the Wake Commissioners to get out of the way and let the voters decide. Here's their piece:
Poll Shows Strong Support for Wake Transit Plan and Half Cent Sales Tax
Wake voters would support the Wake transit plan and a half cent sales tax to pay for an expanded transit system of bus and rail, according to a recent poll commissioned by WakeUP Wake County. Of those polled, 66% support a proposed plan to double bus service, add bus shelters, create commuter rail between Wake and Durham Counties, and initiate steps for light rail. Sixty percent said they would be willing to pay a half cent sales tax increase to pay for this new transit system.
What’s more, Wake voters appear ready to vote on this sales tax for transit this November with 59% strongly supporting having the opportunity to vote this November on a ballot question of dedicating the half-cent sale tax to transit and an additional 19% would somewhat support this action. Durham County voters approved this transit tax by 60% last November, and Orange County Commissioners are strongly considering putting this same measure on their ballot this November. Approval by Orange and Wake County would have a very positive impact on moving the Triangle forward in efforts to improve transportation options.
“What this poll demonstrates is that once people learn what’s in the transit proposal, they are willing to pay for it,” said Ross Massey, engineer and WakeUP Wake County Board Member and Transportation & Land Use Team Leader. “The poll tells us that support for transit is strong and that Wake citizens understand transit is good for economic development and growth planning. This is especially true for our younger citizens; 76% of those aged 18-29 supported the sales tax for transit. With gas prices high and population due to double, now is the time to move forward. Because 2012 is a presidential election year, voter turnout will be higher than usual allowing a strong and vibrant view of the true will of Wake County citizens," Massey added.
The poll was a survey of 644 Wake voters contacted between May 18-20. Public Policy Polling (PPP) conducted the poll. PPP’s polls on the Wake school board elections last year proved to be accurate assessments of the voters’ actions.
The Council, on a 6-2 vote Monday night, followed the Triangle Transit Authority's recommendation for the downtown alignment. Previously, the TTA had pledged to accept the Council's determination, whatever it was. Thus, the two go hand-in-hand to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), a body comprised of local officials from the eastern portion of the Triangle, including Raleigh.
CAMPO has the official last call, but with TTA and Raleigh in agreement, its vote becomes little more than a formality.
So what does last night's action mean? It means that the light-rail system, if it's built and if it includes a Wake County leg, will use the D6 alignment through downtown Raleigh, not one of the other downtown routes under consideration.
I was asked this morning: Does this mean the Council decided to build the D6 line?
Raleigh is not proposing to build anything. And the TTA, which is, has miles to go before its plans become reality.
What's happening is that the TTA is putting together a "locally preferred alternative" for light-rail service in Orange, Durham and Wake Counties. A "locally preferred alternative" is what the federal government wants to see when it receives an application for funds under its "New Starts" transit program. Of course, "New Starts" money is in short supply and there are many aspirants for it, so having a preferred alternative is a necessary element, but it guarantees nothing except the chance to get in line and start doing your environmental impact studies.
That said, Orange County and Durham County have known for some years where they wanted their portions of a regional light-rail system to go. The only tricky, still unresolved portions were in Wake County, specifically: (1) what route to take through downtown Raleigh, and (2) what route to take in the area of Triangle Town Center near I-540.
And only the downtown Raleigh question was really tricky. (At Triangle Town Center, the decision's all but made to run the rail line into the mall, which means it will need to cross over Capital Boulevard; the alternative is to stay on the west side of Capital Boulevard, where a rail corridor — but no mall — already exists.)
The map below shows some of the downtown routes that were studied (others, eliminated earlier, were omitted):
From the map, you can see that only the D5 route would've come into the actual downtown proper. The D2, D3 and D6 routes, on the other hand, skirt the downtown to the west, running up through the Glenwood South district.
D5 has all sorts of other problems with it, however, which caused the city's Passenger Rail Advisory Task Force, a Council-appointed group, to gin up its own last-minute, not-really-studied alternative, which it dubbed D6a. (For background, see our earlier post.)
The D6a idea was to use — like D6 — West Morgan Street, but instead of veering north on Harrington, keep on going right into the downtown. There, it would've linked up with the D5 loop around the Capitol district on Salisbury and Wilmington Streets..
The advantage of D6a: Goes to the downtown, baby.
The disadvantage: To get there, D6a would've needed to cross the ultra-busy S. Dawson and S. McDowell one-way thoroughfares (40-50,000 cars a day) at-grade. Both are state roads, and the state DOT was against having the light-rail cross them at-grade and very opposed to the idea that, if it did cross them, the trains should have priority over the cars.
The upshot, according to TTA and Raleigh's transit planning chief, Eric Lamb, was that even if DOT approved the at-grade crossings (unlikely), the trains would be forced to stop at Dawson and McDowell — red light — every time the lights turned green for the cars. Another disadvantage of D6a, Lamb said, was having light-rail trains stuck in traffic or, worse, hit by a car, on Salisbury and Wilmington.
The fact that D6 goes through the Glenwood South district has major advantages for Raleigh in terms of the development opportunities there. That it does not enter the downtown proper, though, is a big disadvantage for the light-rail system as a whole.
Councilors Russ Stephenson and Bonner Gaylord considered the latter a serious enough problem that they voted no, feeling D6a should be studied more closely before a final decision was made.. Gaylord said he liked D5 as an option also.
Councilor Thomas Crowder, on the other hand, argued that the this first light-rail line, including D6, can and must be augmented by downtown circulator buses, streetcars and additional light-rail lines in the future. In other words, it's not the end of the system, but rather the spine of a system that must evolve.
So, Crowder said, when you get off the light-rail line at the station stop on West Morgan Street, say, and you're six blocks from Fayetteville Street, you could hop on an R-Line bus or maybe a new streetcar. Yes, they'd have to stop for traffic at Dawson and McDowell. But when they stop, they won't be backing up an entire regional light-rail system.
Under D6, by the way, the West Morgan Street station is penciled in on the south side of the street between Boylan Avenue and Glenwood Avenue — very convenient to the Glenwood South district and to the Warehouse district, but a good six-block walk from Fayetteville Street.
There was talk of putting the station on West Morgan a couple of blocks further east at Harrington Street, which is where D6 would swing to the north. But it can't be done. The reason: The West Morgan bridge (over the freight rail corridor) is too high, and there isn't enough room between the top of the bridge and the intersection at Harrington to bring the rail cars down without creating a too-steep, and therefore dangerous drop.
With the West Morgan Station not that close to downtown, though, and another proposed station at Harrington and North Streets close to the state government complex but, again, not real near to what most people would call downtown Raleigh, that's all the more reason why a supporting network of R-Line buses, streetcars or equivalent will be needed to make the D6 alternative work well for the system as a whole.
"[T]wo years since we first started turning the wheels to get a bike lane on the street adjacent to the highest percentage of cyclists in raleigh - they are down. watching over a hunderd motoroists drive down hillsborough street on the inaugural night of the lanes, not a single one slipped over the line into the cylce lane. this is gonna work. thanks to cyclists that pushed for this and the city council and staff that supported it. more please!"
I think he's right. Cyclists will have to be careful and ride close to the line to avoid being "doored," but they know that. And Clark Avenue is an option if all you're trying to do is go east-to-west.
Which just goes to show the truth of my email sig, "Progress Still Possible."
[Note that it isn't "Progress Is Easy."]