Local Politics

Wake officials weigh tax for transit

Posted March 16, 2009 6:54 p.m. EDT

— As a bill that would provide funding for mass transit projects makes its way through the General Assembly, Wake County officials are considering how to approach the issue.

Triangle Transit has proposed a combination of a $2.2 billion light rail system that would stretch 56 miles to connect Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill and expanded bus service across the region. Wake County alone would see 100 new buses, primarily for express service between municipalities, under the plan.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners was briefed on the plan Monday, and members said the region needs to keep a close eye on transit needs as population and traffic congestion increase.

Projections call for 1 million people to move to the area in the next 20 years.

"You have to have a plan, and you have to have the authority to implement the plan and, obviously, (you need) a funding structure," Commissioner Joe Bryan said.

House Bill 148 would allow counties to seek voter approval for a half-cent sales tax increase to fund transit projects.

Bryan said no decision has been made on whether to ask Wake County voters if they want the added tax.

"Right now, the key thing is to have the authority and the option for when our community is ready to make an additional investment in transit," he said.

Triangle Transit reported a 28 percent jump in bus ridership between last July and February over the same period a year earlier, and local resident Shannon Hardy said transit needs to be part of the Triangle's future.

"We aren't going to have options soon. We need to start building," Hardy said. "It's never a good time to make difficult changes, but the reason we're having a bad time is because we haven't done those fundamental things to adapt to our changing environment. As we move forward, we have to."