By: Chris Long
The Raleigh metropolitan area is rapidly growing. We can all see that. However, Raleigh’s infrastructure is debatably not growing at the same pace. Each day thousands of commuters take to the roads in Wake County resulting in terrible congestion on local interstate and other major area highways. Commutes of 15 miles can take upwards of 45 minutes during the worst of rush hour. One accident can result in backups for miles, keeping commuters on the roads for an even longer period of time. Raleigh is among the top 50 most populated cities in the United States. However, unlike most of those other top 50 cities, Raleigh has very little public transportation, which it suffers from.
Raleigh’s history is filled with a limited public transportation. Most of that limited transportation is in downtown Raleigh only. Today the R Line downtown circulator is the most ridden line in all of Wake County’s system. Recently, Capital Area Transit (CAT), the main public transit system in Wake County, was merged with Go Transit connecting Raleigh to other transit systems in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Cary. While this is a step in the right direction in Raleigh’s transit future, the ridership is still very limited. While a little over 1 million people live in Wake County, only about 14,000 rode CAT daily in 2008. Many of the rest took to the roads. As traffic worsens on the beltways only limited talk is underway for increased public transportation across the triangle.
It is likely that in the near future, a light rail will be constructed to connect Durham and Orange County. This will connect downtown Durham with Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill and downtown Chapel Hill. Another proposed idea to alleviate the transit problems in Raleigh is the Wake-Durham light rail line. This would connect downtown Durham and the Durham-Orange line to the Wake-Johnston County line via Research Triangle Park, Cary, NC State University, and downtown Raleigh. Raleigh City Council Members nixed this idea in 2014 because of a recent cut in funding from the state level. However, there is still faith that some sort of train service might serve Wake County. In April, a new Rail Rapid Transit project was proposed. This train would be headed by a heavier diesel engine as compared to the lighter electric engine on the light rail. The diesel engine, because of a lack of a need to construct electric power lines, would allow the construction of train system to cost about half the price of a light rail. The Rail Rapid Transit is proposed to run east to west from the Wake-Durham county line at Research Triangle Park through Cary to downtown Raleigh.
Commuter service east to the Johnston county line and north to Wake Forest have also been proposed with this train line. This train line would still have the option to have electricity added in the future once funding becomes available, if it is constructed in the first place.
As the roads fill to and beyond capacity across the triangle, the push for increased public transportation will continue. While train lines would certainly help to alleviate the traffic backups, it remains to be seen if upcoming budgets will allow for the creation of these new methods of transit.