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Proposed Triangle Rail System Leads To Sharp Political Debate

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A crucial decision on federal funds for a Triangle-wide commuter rail line could come as early as this month.

The Triangle Transit Authority met Tuesday to discuss the best way to lobby for a $360 million check from Uncle Sam.

Former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble didn't mince words when voicing his opinion on the topic.

"This is the No. 1 bad idea for the Triangle," Coble said. "It really is."

Rep. David Price of Chapel Hill begged to differ.

"We have a rail right of way that's about ideally situated," Price said. "How could you do it any better?"

The $724 million rail line would link Durham, Research Triangle Park, Cary and Raleigh. The Triangle Transit Authority is asking the federal government to fund half the cost.

TTA representatives added that, if the TTA can land the federal funds, the trains could be running as soon as 2007.

Price said one look at Interstate 40 during the morning rush means it's time for alternatives.

"There are other ways in which we're very well-situated," Price said. "We have a very concentrated set of work places, for example, out in RTP where people are coming from all around. But they're ending up at work places in the Park."

Coble, a Republican and longtime opponent of the commuter rail plan, said the RTP example is off the tracks.

"When it gets to the RTP, it's worthless," Coble said, "because you get dropped off at a station. You've got to have the support system to get everybody to their campuses, or you're just sitting at a rail stop in the RTP with nowhere to go."

The debate rages: Do we need a rail system or not? Is it a waste or a must?

It all depends on which side of the tracks you're on.

"We could build a bus system that would be far more efficient," Coble said, "that would run on far more flexible times and could work better."

Said Price: "I think it's an essential transportation alternative. If we haven't developed it 10 years from now, we will live to regret it. I mean I feel that very, very strongly."

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