Local Politics

Wake voters to decide on transit tax

Posted October 27, 2016
Updated November 4, 2016

After a year of meetings, the public will get its first look Tuesday at the recommended transit plan designed to improve and expand transit options in Wake County over the next decade.

— Wake County voters will decide this fall if they want to raise local sales taxes by a half-cent to help pay for a $2.3 billion plan that expands public bus and train services.

That question will be the last item on the ballot for voters during early voting or on Election Day, Nov. 8.

Among the new transit options that are part of the Wake County Transit plan are a 37-mile commuter rail linking Raleigh and other parts of Wake County with Research Triangle Park and Durham. The plan also would expand bus routes to Wake County towns not currently served by public transportation and increase the frequency of existing bus routes.

Shoppers in Wake County currently pay 6.75 cents per dollar in sales tax. If the referendum passes, the county's sales tax rate would rise to 7.25 percent, so the tax on a $100 shopping trip would move from $6.75 to $7.25.

"We have to find a way to stem traffic before it gets so unbearable that we're really behind the eight-ball," county Commissioner Matt Calabria said.

Proponents of the plan point to the Triangle's population growth in recent years, citing statistics that show Raleigh, Durham and the surrounding area are growing by 63 people a day, which is adding to traffic congestion.

"Right now, a lot of bus services don’t even run on Sundays or past 9 (p.m.)," said WakeUP Wake County executive director Karen Rindge. "With this plan, the amount of service would expand significantly to all Wake County towns."

The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in June to put the tax increase on the ballot. Voters in Orange and Durham counties approved similar sales tax increases in 2011 and 2012, respectively, for their own transit projects.

Yet, organizations such as the conservative John Locke Foundation, Civitas Institute and the Wake County Taxpayers' Association oppose the tax increase and the transit plan, saying it could be underused, overpriced and outdated by the time it is completed.

"We feel this is an unnecessary step in transit," said Paul Fitts, treasurer of the taxpayers association. "Instead of having 30-foot buses in north Raleigh that run vacant, figure out a way to bring in smaller buses. Take out the bigger buses, shore up the system that you have, then expand it."

Calabria noted that adding more service will make public transit more attractive, so people will use it more frequently.

"We are not an urban metropolis like New York or Chicago," Civitas Institute spokesman Jim Tynen said. "We need a decentralized transportation system."

Tynen's argument is echoed in a statement from the John Locke Foundation, which says the rail map in the transit plan is flawed because all of the lines run in and out of Raleigh, potentially making travel more time-consuming if one had to travel through a central point to get to other, outer Wake County towns.

"So, what about people who live in Knightdale but work in Wake Forest?" the statement asks.

Rindge points to the plan’s promise to add transit to all cities in Wake County and its bipartisan backing.

"I can’t think of a public policy issue that has such broad support. We have businesses working with environmentalist groups with the Home Builders Association," Rindge said. "That's unprecedented."

Bonds on ballot in Durham, Orange

Other area counties have bond issues up for a vote.

Durham County voters will decide whether to borrow $90.9 million for school construction, $44.7 million for library construction, $20.2 million for Durham Technical Community College facilities and $14.2 million for the North Carolina Museum of Life & Science.

In Orange County, voters will decide on whether to issue $120 million in bonds for school construction and another $5 million for affordable housing.


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  • B.c. Jimmy Nov 5, 2016
    user avatar

    The current buses are mostly empty. Please don't expand it.

  • Sean Chen Nov 5, 2016
    user avatar

    Raleigh just doesn't have the population to support such ambition public transit plans. Neither the ridership, nor the tax base.

    This tax will only be the BEGINNING to HLEP pay for a $2.3 BILLION plan…

    that will almost certainly balloon over time into a $8-12 BILLION plan.

    Look at any large metro area transit plan… they're all multiple times the initial projected budget.

    The initial taxes help START new projects that will "go to waste" if they are not funded further.

    It doesn't cost that much to fund buses to run later… move the $ from another managed area.

    This plan will only cost us a LOT more than projected in the long run.

    When our population can handle both using it AND paying for it… then we can revisit.

  • John White Nov 4, 2016
    user avatar

    Too much sprawl for trains. The buses run practically empty now. This will just keep sucking money from tax payers since I doubt enough people would ride it for it to make money. Keep dreaming wake. It ain't happening

  • Terry Green Oct 27, 2016
    user avatar

    I agree with all of the previous points made. Planners are attempting to keep up with the Jones's in my opinion. Raleigh's populous just doesn't rate such an endeavor right now, nor in the foreseeable future. The proposed plan would be a waste of money, and eventually will require more tax increases in order to go back and rectify its shortsightedness to produce a more befitting solution... I voted "No" yesterday.

  • Jack Reason Oct 27, 2016
    user avatar

    Sounds like a waste of money -- as the previous poster mentioned, buses do little to reduce congestion. We have plenty running around Raleigh already, as befits a college town. But Raleigh will grow to the point where rail in its own dedicated corridors is necessary. Light rail without a dedicated corridor is not viable.

  • Phil Cunningham Oct 27, 2016
    user avatar

    And the light rail that's planned doesn't go to the airport. Protectionism for the parking deck investments at RDU, I suppose. A very short-sighted plan. A "no" vote for me.

  • Jim Frei Oct 27, 2016
    user avatar

    I can't vote for this plan as it include bus rapid transit. It makes no sense to dedicate lanes to buses when the same lanes could be used to increase the roadway capacity.