RALEIGH, N.C. — A Wake County official wants a locally appointed panel to take over regional commuter-rail planning from the Triangle Transit Authority.
County Commissioner Joe Bryan plans to propose on Wednesday the creation of a blue-ribbon commission to look at the region's transit needs that could take rail down a different track.
The TTA has been planning for a regional rail system for 15 years, including buying land for a 28-mile corridor stretching from Durham through Research Triangle Park and Cary to Raleigh and drawing up plans for development near the rail stations.
In August, however, the agency withdrew its request for federal support for the $800 million project, saying it's too difficult to meet federal funding requirements.
TTA officials said the agency would work directly with the community to create a transit system that meets Triangle needs and would look for more financial support. The agency has been evaluating other federal programs, including a public-private partnership.
"The only way to get the buy-in that we need from the public on rail is to engage all of the public -- not just those people who are cheerleaders for transit," said Bryan, who chairs Wake County's metropolitan planning organization, a group of elected officials who make transportation funding requests. "Get everybody at the table, and let's come up with a plan that works for our region."
Bryan's idea wouldn't eliminate the TTA, but it could take the agency out of the lead on rail. TTA General Manager David King agrees that a new engineer is needed.
"Our self-critique is (that) rail needs a regional approach, not a TTA approach," King said. "Somehow, someway, over the last decade, it became just a TTA approach. I think Commissioner Bryan is right on target. I'm looking forward to begin that process."
State legislators created the TTA, and Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said lawmakers are watching how the agency proceeds.
"Basically, these are non-elected people that have been sitting there scratching their heads, trying to figure this thing out for over 15 years," said Hunt. "That's why we need some outside influence. We need some new blood."
Hunt said he'd like to see any TTA funds that don't pay for buses placed in an escrow account until there's a firm decision on rail.