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Triangle Growing By Leaps and Bounds

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RALEIGH — Since 1990, Raleigh's population has grown by15 percent. Compare that to Charlotte, which grew only a little more than five percent.

The entire Triangle is booming.Cary's population has grown an amazing 70 percent this decade.Garner added its fair share of people, expanding by 15 percent.And both Chapel Hill's and Carrboro's population grew 14 percent. In fact,the Triangle had five of the 10 fastest growing cities in the state. Andnearby Sanford also made the top 10.

As more people choose to call the Triangle home, planners are scramblingto make room for them, especially on the roads.

The fact that Raleigh is growing faster thanCharlotte may come as a shock to many people.But Michael Vasu, a planning expert at N.C. State University, chalks thatup tothe region's ability -- over the long term -- to grow at a slower, butmuchsteadier rate.

"The quality of life, the economic opportunity, the business climate, havecreated an accelerator factor that we're beginning to see the resultsof in 1996," Vasu said.

We're all seeing those results, especially on the roads.But Vasu notes this may be a battle we'll never win.

"I used to be a planner in California. We got a figure across our desksthat the overwhelming majority of California freeways were filled to capacitythe day they opened."

There is hope that more federal funding for roads in the Triangle couldbe on the way.

North Carolina historically has been referred to as a "donor state,"meaning it contributes more than it receives. There's been aneffort to improve the funding formula, Vasu said, so that North Carolina would receive more, or closer to what it actually contributes.

Among the projects that could use some funding: a mass transit system forthe Triangle.Another project under consideration is the creation of high-occupancyvehiclelanes on Interstate 40.The HOV lanes have proven a very effective means of cutting drive-timetraffic in congested cities like Washington, Atlanta, and Hartford, Connecticut.

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