Municipography, Wake County Transit Plan

Municipography is a summary of current issues going through the Raleigh City Council and other municipal departments in the city. The point is to try to deliver any video, photos, and text associated with the discussions happening at City Hall or elsewhere. Since this is a downtown Raleigh blog, the focus is on the center of the city.

Making their way around Wake County is David King, the General Manager of Triangle Transit, and his entourage to present to all twelve of Wake’s municipalities about the Wake County transit plan. Yesterday at their February 7th city council meeting, Raleigh was given the presentation. It was meant for information only and the county is gathering feedback about the plan from citizens as well as city and town leaders.

One core point of the presentation more people need to be aware of is while light rail, commuter rail, and buses are being talked about, two plans actually exist. The “core transit” plan, as it’s called, is the plan that consists of the bus plan and the commuter rail line. It is estimated that this can be covered with local revenue sources only. The “enhanced transit” plan adds the light rail piece to the mix and King makes it clear that state and federal money would be needed to bring this addition to the area.

The feedback will determine whether county leaders put a 1/2 cent sales tax increase on the ballot one day and if voters approve, all the money generated gets funneled to transit these improvements. Here is the video of the presentation in Raleigh with David King and David Cooke, the Wake County Manager, talking transit, money, and future projections.

Here’s a summary from the city’s press release.

A draft plan that recommends major transportation improvements in Wake County, including new commuter and light-rail services, was presented today to the Raleigh City Council.

Wake County Manager David Cooke and David King, general manager of the Triangle Transit Authority, appeared at the City Council meeting to give an overview of the draft Wake County Transit Plan. In addition to Wake County, contributors to the proposed plan were the 12 municipalities in the county, including the City of Raleigh, and area transit providers and agencies.

Raleigh City Council members did not take action on the draft Wake County Transit Plan but accepted it as information. Similar presentations about the draft transit plan are being made to the governing bodies of the county’s other municipalities. Wake County expects to finalize the plan late this spring.

The draft Wake County Transit Plan takes a two-pronged approach to meeting increasing transit needs as the county continues to grow. Wake County’s population, set at about 901,000 in the 2010 U.S. Census, is projected to top 1 million by 2015 and 1.5 million by 2035. The transit plan’s two-pronged approach is:

  • A Core Transit Plan that would expand local and commuter bus service and build a rush-hour 37-mile commuter rail service from Garner to Durham. It would also provide amenities such as park-and-ride lots, sidewalks, signage and bus shelters, benches and other improvements; and,
  • An Enhanced Transit Plan that would build light-rail service from Downtown Cary through Downtown Raleigh, up to Millbrook Road in north Raleigh. The route would cover 13.9 miles.

Wake County’s share of the of the five-year bus services improvements in the plan would be $138.3 million of the total $344 million needed for both capital and operating costs. The remaining funds would come from state and federal funds. The commuter rail service would cost $650 million, with Wake County’s share at $330 million and Durham County’s at $320 million. The commuter rail system is projected to begin operations in 2019 or 2020.

Twelve (12) stations are proposed for the commuter rail system, including four in Raleigh. The four Capital City stations would be located along railroad tracks at the following locations:

  • West Raleigh north of Hillsborough Street near Corporate Center Drive;
  • North Carolina State University;
  • Downtown Raleigh near West and Davie Streets; and,
  • Hammond Road/Rush Street area in south Raleigh

The proposed light-rail service would cost $1.1 billion, with most of the funding coming from state and federal sources. The light-rail system would have 16 stations, including 14 stations in Raleigh. The Raleigh station locations would be:

  • West Raleigh Station near Corporate Center Drive and Chapel Hill Road;
  • Jones Franklin Road Station;
  • State Fairgrounds Station;
  • Gorman Street Station;
  • North Carolina State University/Dan Allen Drive Station;
  • North Carolina State University/Pullen Road Station;
  • West Morgan Street Station;
  • Union Station-Morgan/Hargett Station in Downtown Raleigh;
  • Harrington Avenue Station between Lane and Jones streets in Downtown Raleigh;
  • Peace Street Station;
  • Whitaker Mill Road Station;
  • Six Forks Road Station;
  • New Hope Church Road Station; and,
  • Millbrook Road Station.

Local revenue sources to pay for the transportation improvements proposed in the draft Wake County Transit Plan would include:

  • A half-cent sales tax increase which would need approval by Wake County voters in a referendum. The Wake County Board of County Commissioners would schedule the referendum; and,
  • A $10 increase in annual vehicle registration fees. County commissioners have the authority to establish a new $7 vehicle registration fee, with the revenue going toward funding the transit plan. The board of trustees of Triangle Transit can increase the regional vehicle registration fee by $3 also to fund the transit plan. The current annual vehicle registration fee in Raleigh is $35. A $10 increase would raise the fee to $45.

To view the draft Wake County Transit Plan, visit the county’s website at and type “Wake County Transit Plan” in the search engine, or call 856-6160.

Light Rail in or over downtown Raleigh?

As a reminder, there are some transit related events that are going on right now. Remind yourself by clicking here if you’re not sure what I’m referring to. Anyway, two events are taking place in Raleigh this week and the downtown portion of the light rail plan is sure to bring controversy.

Some of the presentation materials have been posted online and I’d like to cover some of it here.

An excellent read, with images that I will be linking to, is over at The Indy. I recommend reading that first.

Rail route is blurry through downtown Raleigh via

To recap, planners have a few alternatives to work with when the light rail trains, coming from the west, head towards downtown Raleigh. If you look at the initial alternatives study, the map of those routes look like the spaghetti bowl below.

Click for full, larger view.

The next step planners took to eliminate some of these routes was to look at each one and evaluate them on five parameters:

  • Potential Transit Ridership
  • Consistency with Plans and Studies
  • Stakeholder Support
  • No Irresolvable Environmental Impacts
  • Technical and Financial Feasibility

If one of these parameters failed for the studied route, it was thrown out. After that elimination round, we were left with this map.

Click for full, larger view.

Four plans remain and it will be these four that are open for comment at the Triangle Transit events this week. We can step through each one and take a look.

D2 and D3

D2 and D3 are similar except for the street they head north on when leaving Union Station. D2 would have tracks on Harrington Street while D3 would put the tracks on West Street. Both routes bring the trains on a flyover over the Boylan Bridge and would result in something like you see here and here.

As the trains head to downtown from NC State in the NC railroad corridor, “difficulties” in having the light rail line play nice with freight and future high-speed rail are why the plans to go into the air are on the table. I’ll admit the Boylan Wye is a complicated cluster of tracks but the freight rail companies do have a reputation of being against anything that could possibly disturb their operation.

According to planners, D2 and D3 would make the light rail line go right into Union Station, giving us that very important connection to other modes of transportation. It also avoids headaches with the track layout of the Boylan Wye.

These plans were moved forward because each one:

  • Capitalizes on potential development opportunities on the west side of downtown.
  • Serves both Glenwood South and downtown.
  • Does not include additional overhead structures.
  • Supports location of proposed Raleigh multimodal center (Union Station) concept.
  • Meets the Purpose and Need for the project

I’m not quite sure I agree with these. A train that goes into the air and weaves through downtown blocks may actually take away from development opportunity because it is consuming so much space for itself. Once the train weaves through, that land cannot be developed.

I haven’t been to a meeting yet so I’ll find out for myself later this week.


D5 involves the same flyover going over the Boylan Avenue Bridge but instead of heading to the northern end of Union Station it goes south, towards the convention center. The line would run through the core of downtown, along Salisbury and Wilmington Streets, and back into the NCRR corridor to the north.

My feelings are the same with the flyover over the bridge but I’m not quite sure when the train finally touches down. This rendering and this rendering suggests that the train will most likely continue to be elevated all the way to South Street. Another thing to note is that other routes were turned down because they impact traffic on Dawson and McDowell Street. This leads me to think that D5 will continue to be elevated on South to go over McDowell and come down before Salisbury Street.

Again, lots of elevated tracks that take away from development opportunity. This plan passed because it:

  • Does not cross McDowell and Dawson Streets at-grade.
  • Penetrates core of downtown Raleigh.
  • Does not impact Morgan, Hargett, and Martin Streets.
  • Provides more direct access to the Convention Center.
  • Meets the Purpose and Need for the project.


No renderings are provided for this scenario. Interesting.

D6 avoids the Boylan Wye and the possibility of going over the Boylan Avenue Bridge. The plan has the light rail line coming out of the NCRR corridor down by Charlie Goodnight’s and it hits the street at Morgan. It continues East and takes a left turn onto Harrington Street and continues on its merry way. According to the report, the plan:

  • Avoids Raleigh Wye and does not interface with freight and Southeast High Speed Rail track issues.
  • Does not include additional overhead structures.
  • Capitalizes on potential development opportunities on the west side of downtown.
  • Serves both Glenwood South and downtown.
  • Meets the Purpose and Need for the project.

The negative with this plan is that if the light rail line went down Morgan Street, the optimal station stop would be at the intersection of Morgan and West Street, the Union Station stop. But if you’ve been out there to see it, Morgan is not quite so flat in that area, a requirement for a light rail station to be ADA compliant. I’ve heard this is also the more expensive alternative, but will confirm at the meeting, because a lot of road work would have to be done to get that Union Station stop, something that is very important to the connectivity of the system.

Wrapping Up

I like to see all the materials first before I choose which direction to take my opinion but from what I have seen so far, the D6 route seems to be the best choice on the limited amount of information available.

D6 is the most pedestrian friendly and turns downtown streets into more efficient modes of transit, moving more people through without building more roads or widening them. In my opinion, trains on elevated tracks that are not over roads take away from potential development.

I’d be really interested to see what kind of road modifications need to be done to Morgan to get that Union Station Stop at the West Street intersection. This will likely be my first question to answer at the meetings.

The Mayor’s Passenger Rail Task Force supports a route similar to D6 and the Downtown Living Advocates are speaking out for the same thing.

Whatever your opinion may be, make sure to send it in.