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As the Triangle Expands, So Do Plans for its Transit System

Photo Credit: NCDOT, licensed CC BY 2.0

As major tech companies continue to bring new residents to the Triangle, its population is projected to grow by over half a million people in the next decade. That fact has many people pondering over lengthy commutes and how new residents will tap out an already-congested transit system. Fortunately, the region’s leaders have already been developing plans to ease transit concerns for the future.

“I am amazed every day by what is coming to the Triangle,” said Charles Lattuca, President and CEO of GoTriangle, the regional agency that works to connect people and places through safe, reliable transit services. “It takes a lot of planning and investments to keep these companies coming. Right now, Raleigh-Durham is on all the top 10 lists. But we need the right transit system in place to support our people.”

As the Triangle continues to expand, residents across the metro were clear about the three things that are most important to them when it comes to their transit services: reliability, reduced congestion, and increased connectivity. Lattuca pointed to the need for expansion to keep up with the access that’s necessary for connectivity.

“We have several urban centers,” he said. According to statistics from the North Carolina Department of Commerce, nearly 140,000 Durham workers commute into the city and more than 60,000 Johnston County residents drive out of their cities to pursue work. He said of the more than 600,000 new residents expected to move into the Triangle, the vast majority of which will move east of the Research Triangle Park. Johnston County, meanwhile, is going to double in size. That means getting to work will be more complicated without intervention.

“The road network is jammed,” Lattuca said. “Raleigh to Durham can take 50 minutes to an hour. We need to make sure folks can get to school, to the doctor, and to work. That challenge will be more difficult as the population grows, and that’s what we’re trying to solve.”

One of the group’s major initiatives is a commuter rail system that will visit 15 stations across the Triangle. Using an existing North Carolina railroad corridor, the system is expected to carry 10,000 rider per day across major stops near North Carolina State University, Duke University and Duke Medical Center, the University of North Carolina and its hospitals, Research Triangle Park, and PNC Arena.

Additional plans also include a rapid transit bus system and a better overall connectedness between local transit systems. “GoTriangle and its transit partners are working to build and plan for the network that’s going to serve that future population that’s coming,” he said.

Lattuca said these projects will take several years to complete. Of the commuter rail system, which is said is a $2 billion project, he said, “It probably won’t be operating until 2030.” County commissioners will need to review the plans in 2022, and numerous studies and research have been conducted to ensure its feasibility.

The cities involved are also making financial plans to ensure these projects are well funded. “The region has good revenue streams to carry out projects,” he said. Currently, each county in the region has dedicated dollars that fund transit systems. “For example, there’s a surcharge on vehicle registrations and on car rentals, which funds our GoTriangle plans.”

As far as additional funding is concerned, Lattuca said the counties will apply for federal grants as well as look for local corporate partnerships. “Many of the companies that are starting to move into the region—Apple, Google, Fuji-film—have very high social responsibility goals,” he said. “Developing partnerships in transit may make sense for them.”

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