We at Triangle Blog Blog are not a singularity, and we often debate civic topics amongst ourselves.

So when my Triangle Blog Blog colleague Martin Johnson wrote earlier about GoTriangle’s latest commuter rail plans – saying that we shouldn’t move forward with the project due to high costs and potential low ridership, I wanted to write a rebuttal.

Build the commuter rail.

Yes, the price tag is high for the project. But as our friends at Carolina Forward point out, “it’s a heck of a lot smaller than the multi-decade price tag of not building it” and it seems like federal funding could cover up to half of the cost. (Also, a project this valuable shouldn’t be left to the counties to figure out how to fund on their own, with help from the federal government. The state of NC needs to step up and play its role.)

Go Triangle’s study focuses on a line that would run from Durham to Clayton. That region of North Carolina is expected to rapidly grow over the coming decades – adding hundreds of thousands of new residents. The 43-mile line would connect West Durham through RTP, Morrisville, Cary, Raleigh, and Garner.

The potential for workers in Durham and Wake who commute to RTP is high. Spectrum reports that “A transit analysis found that as many as 96,000 Triangle commuters live in Wake and work in Durham or vice versa, so travel doesn’t just go in one direction in the mornings and back in the evenings.” GoTriangle estimates that 10-18,000 people would use the rail line.

The line would also potentially extend to Clayton in Johnston County. Already, we see that the majority of people who live in Johnston County work elsewhere.

Commuting Johnston County
Data from https://onthemap.ces.census.gov/

I grew up in South Jersey, where the commuter rail line (PATCO) takes people to Philadelphia. Rides have been down during the pandemic (as they have across the country) but I’ve watched as the areas around the commuter rail stations – Collingswood, NJ – have transformed into walkable downtowns and really lovely places to live.

The light rail project that Duke killed would have been transformative in our region. But it should not mean the death of light rail forever.

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Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....