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How Long Before Triangle Commuters are Off the Road & Riding the Rails?

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WAKE COUNTY — Ten million dollars to help pay for a commuter rail system in the Triangle is working its way through Congress. TheTriangle Transit Authorityhas already raised $70 million. So how is the money being spent?

The Triangle Transit Authority says one solution to the daily Interstate 40 traffic trauma is to get people off the roads and onto the rails.

The TTA wants self-propelled rail cars, like the Flexliner, to run a commuter rail system.

Sixteen stops are proposed from Duke Medical Center, through downtown Durham, through RTP, on to Cary, Downtown Raleigh, then up to Spring Forest Road in North Raleigh.

The hope is to make the commuter rail stops user-friendly. Many locations are still being negotiated, but one that is firmly in the plans is at N.C. State University -- right on top of the Free Expression Tunnel near Reynolds Coliseum.

The TTA has raised nearly $80 million from federal and state sources and the local rental car tax. Many frustrated commuters wonder, with all that money, where are the results?

"That's exactly right, you haven't seen anything yet. The money is, in fact, in the bank drawing interest, or it's with the federal government," says Jim Ritchey of the TTA. "The project still needs to go through the environmental planning hurdles before we can start construction."

The environmental impact study focuses on the proposed route -- new track built next to existing rail lines. A draft of the study should be out in September.

Until people can see results, the Triangle Transit Authority knows there will be skeptics.

"That's alright. We absolutely welcome skepticism. It helps us to refine and improve the plan," says Ritchey.

Many people hope the plan gets moving before they can no longer move along I-40.

The 36-mile commuter rail line is expected to cost between $400 and $600 million.

The Triangle Transit Authority hopes to begin construction by 2003 and have the first phase open by 2007.