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monsoon

Triangle Regional Transit

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I've been following this project as closely as I can; I've found that the best source for updates on the TTA rail system is the TTA web page.

If you don't feel like going to the page, here's a quick summary of the recent activity:

On September 13th, the TTA submitted an update to its environmental and preliminary engineering studies that detail several changes to the design of the system. Most noteworthy are some configuration changes in Durham, and the use of a less intrusive open cut in place of an elevated structure through downtown Raleigh.

On October 27th, the TTA announced that it awarded UTS a $90.1 million contract to build 32 FRA-compliant DMU railcars (16 married pairs) for delivery in 2007-2008. FRA-compliance, means that these cars will be permitted to operate on the same tracks as freight trains, making future expansion less costly. UTS, a consortium of Japanese and Korean companies, undercut the other bidders in the competition by over $25 million, coming in well below the amount TTA had initially budgeted for acquiring the vehicles.

It seems that the reason UTS bid so low on this contract is twofold. Firstly: while UTS is an established supplier throughout Asia, this is their first foray into the US market and they view it as an excellent opportunity to establish their brand here. Secondly, they anticipate sharing R&D costs with several other US projects currently in the bidding phase.

On November 19th, TTA put out a "Call to Artists" to provide art that will be displayed in the stations throughout the system. While some of the art will be purely decorative, much of it will be functional as well- such as railings and paving stones. I think there's a regulation that states a certain percentage of the budget of any public project of this magnitude must go towards the acquisition of art.

I also attended a public meeting on November 10th to discuss the possibility of merging Durham's DATA and Raleigh's CAT city bus systems into the TTA. One of the reasons given for the merger was improved integration with regional rail.

Lastly, the third phase of the design process for the downtown Raleigh multimodal station will begin in January. This phase involves selection of a preferred design for the station, and the adoption of design guidelines for the surrounding area. The station, which will be located on the "wye" between Boylan Ave. and West St., will serve as a connection between all modes of transportation in Raleigh, and will probably include a commercial element as well.

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True, it's never a good idea to force workers out of downtown, but I must say that Dillon Supply is not a very efficient use of the space. Dillon uses up a huge number of acres with one-story buildings and warehouses, creating only 100 jobs right on top of what could be the most important transit hub in Raleigh: the Boylan Wye, where all the railroad tracks come together. This location can and should be the de-facto gateway to downtown, and has the potential to provide housing and jobs for 2000 (or more!) people.

Let us ignore, for a moment, the transit factor, and consider the area on its present merits alone. If you were to take a walk down West St., you'd notice how close you are to Glenwood South. You'll also find yourself just down the street from Jillian's and a slew of other warehouse district restaurants and stores- the whole area has the feel of an entertainment district. While the Dillon warehouse buildings themselves aren't ugly at all, the current streetscape is utilitarian, low-intensity, and somewhat unkempt. Nevertheless, you can easily see that the whole area has great potential to be redeveloped in the pattern of the rest of the warehouse district. An industrial supply company just doesn't quite fit in with the other uses in the area. You would also notice that the wye area behind Dillon is an eyesore: brownfields dotted with dilapidated buildings and littered with garbage. Certainly not Dillon's fault, but ugly just the same.

Anyway, While I agree that it's a bit sad to see Dillon (or any company for that matter) move to the suburbs, I'll go along with TTA, city planners, and the owner of Dillon Supply himself. This is the best move for downtown.

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Oops.

Saw this article in today's N&O:

Feds hit brakes on rail money

At issue here are thetraffic projections, which seem high. I have trouble believing that a bus trip from Raleigh to Durham at rush hour will take 4 hours, but if the region lets its current suburban development patterns continue unchecked without massive highway improvements I might be convinced. The 99 minute projection from West Raleigh to RTP actually makes sense to me, given that the TTA buses ALWAYS hit significant delays there, even now.

It also seems that TTA got greedy by asking the feds to cover 61% of the cost. Should have kept to the 50% guideline that the consultant gave you. So there'd be delays in construction; who cares. This drop in ratings could be a slap on the wrist from the feds - "reduce our share or we'll get serious." Or, this could be the beginning of the end for TTA. Time will tell.

Regardless, unless this "not rated" deal gets changed back soon, expect a lot of the best development plans from the past few years to be scrapped: with no TTA, say goodbye to Triangle Metro Center, the Raleigh Multimodal Transport Hub, and every other plan for a walkable, liveable area around each station. This is one of precious few forwards-looking, far-reaching projects in the triangle and I'd hate to see it die.

Guess I might not want to stay in Raleigh after all...

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I definetly hope that they can get the approval of the feds in order to get this project moving. So far all this time spent talking has given room for doubt in this project. The Triangle needs the light rail, and it is integral in the greater scheme of things, with the southeastern high speed rail corridor.

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I definetly hope that they can get the approval of the feds in order to get this project moving.  So far all this time spent talking has given room for doubt in this project.  The Triangle needs the light rail, and it is integral in the greater scheme of things, with the southeastern high speed rail corridor.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree that the TTA's rail plan is forward-thinking, but I'm not sure it's right for us when you look at some of the details. I don't think there is much of a plan to get people on or OFF the trains. I think the station layouts aren't great, esp. since they removed the Duke University stop and there is no airport connection.

Having a rail system will certainly boost the area's image, but there will always be congestion on the freeways. In what US city has a rail system completely eliminated freeway congestion? There isn't one.

Let's figure out a way to conserve the tax payer's money AND have a working transit system.

I. Bruton

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I hope they build the system but I have always wondered if the lack of sufficient local funding would end up killing this project. And yes indeed the thinking of how the stations would serve the area around them is critical to getting acceptance of this design. The RDU area really needs to put some curbs on sprawling development and concentrate development around rail/transit corridors before the commuter rail line could be considered successful.

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As I sat in a 6 hour(no kidding) traffic jam due to 1 inch of snow last Wednesday, I thought about all of the people who have told me nobody would use rail when and if it ever comes to this area. With the area growing by leaps and bounds, I wonder what these people think now...It will only get worse and it is so important that something is done about this before it's too late.

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That article contains a positive message from TTA--they don't expect the lack of federal funding to impact the timetable. In fact, TTA's website states that construction should begin this year and be operational by 2008.

Errrr... I have the urge to sound like a pessimistic old fart, but I will resist :D

These people sound pretty certain that the system will get funded at some point down the road--so certain that they are ballsy enough to proceed with construction? :blink:

I'm not a big fan of the original plan, but I guess I'll take what I can get. It seems like commuter rail would be much cheaper to implement, but it would not serve the Raleigh to Durham corridor well at all. Commuter rail works out perfect for the proposed Eastrans system--which would theoretically share the same multimodal hub as TTA and CAT, and allow free transfers to the TTA system.

Light rail is too geared for intra-city travel, so it would also be inappropriate for the Raleigh-Durham corridor.

In the end, Regional Rail is the best choice for that corridor--as it is basically just an extended range light rail system, good for linking several urban centers in the same region. I believe it is important to link North Raleigh, Raleigh, Cary, RTP, Durham, and Chapel Hill--and the proposed Regional Rail line does this... but RTP and Cary need more stops, and it needs to stop in the airport.

TTA says they will consider adding an airport extension in the future if the need arises, but I say just do it now and save a little trouble down the road. If they are building new double tracks for this thing anyway (beside the existing freight and passenger double tracks), just swing the TTA ones a little more to the north and zip by the airport.

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Seems to me it would be a no-brainer to connect the commuter rail system to the NC RR and the airport. They would get passengers from all over the state wanting to take advantage of the cheaper airfares there.

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That article contains a positive message from TTA--they don't expect the lack of federal funding to impact the timetable. In fact, TTA's website states that construction should begin this year and be operational by 2008.

Errrr... I have the urge to sound like a pessimistic old fart, but I will resist :D

These people sound pretty certain that the system will get funded at some point down the road--so certain that they are ballsy enough to proceed with construction? :blink:

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I believe they are counting on a congressional earmark in the FY2006 budget. TTA was reduced to "unrated" because of questions about their traffic projections. Since TTA was still "unrated" when the FTA made its FY2006 new starts announcement, it was ineligible for funding.

But remember, this is next year's budget we're talking about. TTA did recieve $20 million this year's budget, for a grand total of $85 million since the project's inception. They also have a large commitment from the state. With a history like that, TTA has sufficient reason to believe that if they can regain their "recommended" rating by the time FY2006 appropriations come about, Congress will consider a $30 million earmark rather than just telling TTA to wait another year.

However, if a review of the traffic projections results in a "not recommended" rating for 2006, TTA will have no choice but to stop and reconsider. The FTA is being stingier than usual with its new starts money this year because the federal budget is in such terrible shape, so things might improve for 2007, but the property can always be put back on the market if TTA decides to give up.

TTA says they will consider adding an airport extension in the future if the need arises, but I say just do it now and save a little trouble down the road. If they are building new double tracks for this thing anyway (beside the existing freight and passenger double tracks), just swing the TTA ones a little more to the north and zip by the airport.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

They can't just "swing it a little more to the north and zip by the airport" for a number of reasons. First of all, that would be a lot more expensive since they wouldn't be using the state-owned NCRR right of way. Any alignment including RDU would either skip the Triangle Metro Center or take a zigzag route that crosses I-40 THREE times, which would add at least 10 minutes to the Raleigh-Durham trip. Those bridges would cost a pretty penny, too. No, it's not going to happen.

TTA will connect with the airport; it'll just be a 5-10 minute shuttle bus ride to Triangle Metro Center or Cary. The "one seat ride" concept is overrated; people going to an airport EXPECT to ride shuttle buses between the terminals anyway, so why not just have that shuttle bus run all the way to RTP as well?

Put some advertisements on the train and a big sign at the airport, and it'll work just fine. I don't see how that's so inconvenient.

If the shuttle buses are popular, they could eventually be converted to BRT, or replaced by LRT or a people mover that loops through each of the terminals and extends three miles to the Triangle Metro Center. It could even stops at some of the satellite parking along the way.

Once again, they'll have shuttle buses. If they had a shuttle from Cary, they could even connect with the intercity passenger trains that stop there. If the Triangle Metro Center turns out to be as popular as I think it will (think the CBD of RTP) they might want to build a station for intercity trains there too, so the connection could be made there as well.

If the main TTA line were to go through the airport, there would be three options: underground, an elevated structure, or a stop at the perimiter of the airport, since the TTA's 85ft articulated DMUs will be too bulky to maneuver the tight spaces around the terminals at ground level. The underground and elevated options would be too expensive, and the perimiter option would mean that passengers get off and transfer to a shuttle bus or people mover anyway. So, just extend that people mover or shuttle bus all the way to a regular TTA station instead. Makes more sense, doesn't it?

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They can't just "swing it a little more to the north and zip by the airport" for a number of reasons. First of all, that would be a lot more expensive since they wouldn't be using the state-owned NCRR right of way. Any alignment including RDU would either skip the Triangle Metro Center or take a zigzag route that crosses I-40 THREE times, which would add at least 10 minutes to the Raleigh-Durham trip. Those bridges would cost a pretty penny, too. No, it's not going to happen.

TTA will connect with the airport; it'll just be a 5-10 minute shuttle bus ride to Triangle Metro Center or Cary. Put some advertisements on the train and a big sign at the airport, and it'll work just fine. I don't see how that's so inconvenient.

Well I'm talking about efficiency--fewer transfers ARE desired. Sure there may be situations where transfers are unavoidable, but I think that even if a remote possiblity exists to eliminate one, it should be discussed. Of course our discussions here have no bearing on the actual project, but I think it is fun to brainstorm nonetheless.

I had completely forgotten that Triangle Metro Center (if it becomes a reality) is supposed to go there at Miami and NC54. I can think of a better spot or two, but whatever...

Here's the inspiration for my statement--they say they will consider running rail to the airport in the future, but I can't help but think that the cost of adding a whole new rail line and trainset might be a bit more than just running the main line through the airport, at the same time utlizing a slightly lower cost of construction (will only be more expensive in the future).

Such a detour would only require one additional bridge, spanning over I-540. If they follow the NCRR alignment, they will need to build another bridge over I-40 near Miami Blvd anyway, so why not just build it over near Aviation parkway, stop at the airport (letting normal airport shuttles move people around), cross I-540, then rejoin the NCRR alignment before ever crossing Cornwallis Rd.

And if securing property for ROW is a serious problem, there is a rail line that runs perpendicular to NCRR and Miami Blvd very close to the the Cornwallis Rd intersection--I don't know who it belongs to though, but it could potentially be shared just like NCRR. A development like Triangle Metro Center could be moved to one of many available lots along this imaginary alignment.

Your LRT/People Mover suggestion also sounds nice though--it is effcient and doesn't require travel on major roads. Like everything else though, it is pricey. Now with Triangle Metro Center in the equation, assuming it goes where they've planned, the dedicated airport line is probably a more attractive solution.

The shuttle idea from the airport is really no different than what we have right now, its just that the transfers would occur on Miami Blvd instead of Davis Dr. The shuttle still deals with chronically bad traffic no matter which route they take to/from the airport.

If money was no object, I'd really want the rail to cut through the heart of RTP--making it possible for a lot more people to just walk to their campus or take very short shuttle hops. At present, one of the stops in RTP is extremely convenient to where I work--almost down to which building in the campus :P

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See this thread for the complete details of this years transit funding plans. Considering how badly the nation is going into debt, I think it unlikely any more funding will be forthcoming from Congress until they are dealing with the 2007 budget.

I read somewhere that 26 news plans (including the Triangle) were rejected for various reasons so competition for these funds is very intense. If the Triangle is going to get back into the running and pull ahead of these other systems (and more are being submitted including from Charlotte) they need to make several changes. These include:

  • Look at cost reductions. The original TTA proposal of almost $900M is $200M more than Charlotte's LRT and proposed north commuter rail line combined. The CATS north rail line will have 14 stations and run for 35 miles. This is very comparible to the Raleigh system, but the proposed cost is around $300M.

  • More must be done to encourage TOD development around the proposed lines. Even though it is several years away, Charlotte has already had over a $Billion in real estate development around the South LRT and more is on the way. The city is leveraging its bus service to deliver riders to the line as well. This was one of the reasons cited by the Feds for funding Charlotte's light rail system.

  • Fix local funding. The Feds are loath to fund a line were the local funding part is low or non-existant. In Charlotte the voters approved a general sales tax of 1/2 percent that is to be used for non-highway transit purposes. This sales tax is currently generating about $1.1M/week and it gradually rising as the economy here contines to grow. In comparison, though I don't have numbers, the tax on hotels/car rentals in the Triangle is falling far short of projections and isn't enough to cover th local funding. I said several years ago this was going to hurt RDU's plans and that looks to be true.

I hope the Triangle is able to fix its problems. It should be noted the TTA began planning for their system several years before Charlotte, yet Charlotte is now building its system while the Triangle is still waiting. A thorough examination of this failure by transit and political leaders in RDU is needed if this line is going to take off.

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Well I'm talking about efficiency--fewer transfers ARE desired. Sure there may be situations where transfers are unavoidable, but I think that even if a remote possiblity exists to eliminate one, it should be discussed. Of course our discussions here have no bearing on the actual project, but I think it is fun to brainstorm nonetheless.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree :)

Such a detour would only require one additional bridge, spanning over I-540. If they follow the NCRR alignment, they will need to build another bridge over I-40 near Miami Blvd anyway, so why not just build it over near Aviation parkway, stop at the airport (letting normal airport shuttles move people around), cross I-540, then rejoin the NCRR alignment before ever crossing Cornwallis Rd.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

With that alignment, you basically end up skipping half of RTP - the part that lies south of I-40. That doesn't sound better to me. Access to south RTP is far more important than a transferless ride to RDU.

And if securing property for ROW is a serious problem, there is a rail line that runs perpendicular to NCRR and Miami Blvd very close to the the Cornwallis Rd intersection--I don't know who it belongs to though, but it could potentially be shared just like NCRR. A development like Triangle Metro Center could be moved to one of many available lots along this imaginary alignment.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That's the CSX line from Durham to Apex. It could definitely be shared with TTA, but that would cost more. Besides, isn't that even FURTHER from the heart (well, geographic center) of RTP?

If money was no object, I'd really want the rail to cut through the heart of RTP--making it possible for a lot more people to just walk to their campus or take very short shuttle hops. At present, one of the stops in RTP is extremely convenient to where I work--almost down to which building in the campus :P

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The problem is, RTP doesn't really have a heart. It's just sprawl. There are two areas of slightly higher density, and those are pretty much covered by the two future TTA stations near Nortel and IBM. How do you propose to do a better job than that?

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The problem is, RTP doesn't really have a heart. It's just sprawl. There are two areas of slightly higher density, and those are pretty much covered by the two future TTA stations near Nortel and IBM. How do you propose to do a better job than that?

I'm talking about the geometric heart of course. RTP's very position does not interface well with existing rail lines, so IF money was not object, I would propose a line that would swipe past more campuses, perhaps over towards Davis Dr?

Another nifty project would be a light rail "beltline" around the middle of RTP--perhaps have it snake through all of the large campuses. Just have a synchronized transfer available at a main RTP rail station (Metro Center?) and it would serve most people in the park. For those who would not be served by the "beltline" or who cannot wait for the next train, provide bus or shuttle service everywhere else in the park. Rails are predictable and reliable--they aren't affected by snow, ice, traffic jams, etc. They run on a schedule along a dedicated right of way.

You don't have to remind me that these are pie in the sky ideas. However if money was plentiful I think it would appeal to a lot of people. Some people don't mind driving, however I know that others and myself hate driving during prime time, especially those long distance commuters. It is a teeth grinding experience! I would love to instead reach a state of semi-zen looking out a moving train window on my way to work everyday.

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Oops, forgot to add this... Since I suppose the system will be built as planned, I am glad that it will actually be pretty damn convenient for me to use. If no one else rides it, I know I will on most days. :)

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Here is a link to an article from the March 26, 2003 News & Observer that talks about the various options for linking the airport up to the rail system and the reason that TTA isn't going to tie it in directly with the regional rail line. Low ridership numbers and high cost are given as the biggest reason that it will not be constructed in the near future.

Think about it: except for people going for day trips (and light packers), people tend to fly with a lot of luggage. It's very difficult to cary heavy luggage on a regular feeder bus, so people who don't live in the immediate station area would have to drive at least as far as the train station. Although someone who left their car at the rail station would avoid the parking fees at the airport, there's the issue of security - and I'd rather leave my car in a secured, long-term lot at the airport than in a park-and-ride lot at a station.

There's also the drop-off factor. A LOT of people going to the airport get a spouse/friend/roommate to drop them off. Since flying is not an every day thing, there are very few cases where the driver is only be willing to take someone as far as the train station. Since you've got the person and their luggage in the car, why not just drive all the way to the airport? Luggage can be such a big hassle that even people without spouses/friends/roommates will be likely to splash out on a taxi cab for door-to-door service.

Even so, there will be people who need to get to the airport from the rail system, and for them there will be a shuttle bus. Remember: the infrastructure required to support shuttle buses costs $0, while a rail link would costs at least $150 million. In my opinion, that money would be put to better use on the North Raleigh and Chapel Hill extensions than on an airport link that few people will use. The $20 million BRT option is an interesting middle ground and warrants future consideration, but for the time being TTA just needs to focus on building the first leg of its rail system.

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Current Design Specs. of TTA Commuter Rail system. Personally I think they must be smoking something if they think the Feds are going to give them close to $1/2 Billion for this project. A much higher percentage of local funding is needed.

-----------------------------------------

NUMBER OF STATIONS: 12

MILES OF TRACK: 28.1

PARK-AND-RIDE LOTS: 10, with 2,050 spaces

SERVICE: Beginning in late 2008, trains every 15 minutes during peak hours; every 30 minutes at other times. After 2015, every 10 minutes during peak hours; 20 minutes at other times.

CONSTRUCTION COST: $695 million (includes $29 million interest on bonds)

FEDERAL SHARE: $428 million (62 percent) from transit and clean-air funds

STATE SHARE: $127 million (18 percent)

LOCAL SHARE: $140 million (20 percent) -- $58 million from rental tax and vehicle registration fees, $82 million from bonds

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I agree. They need to get the federal share down to 50% or slightly less or face the ire of congress and the president.

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Silver Lining?

I've been reading about how the state is dramatically decreasing spending on roads, while at the same time rewriting its 'equity formula' so rural areas - particularly those down east - get a larger slice of the pie. This is going to push many piedmont road projects back by several years. Here is a recent Charlotte Observer article about this issue.

This could cause headaches for commuters in the major metro areas. While it will certainly be a boon to the chronically under-invested counties down east, some say that it might force companies considering a relocation to the Piedmont to look elsewhere.

I, on the other hand, don't think that the headaches and loss of growth will be nearly as bad as some people predict. In fact, this might be a step in the right direction. When it comes to transportation in rural areas, roads are the only game in town - and that is the way it always will be. However, in larger cities where there are more people and greater density, more efficient alternatives should be sought rather than just soaking up all the road money on widening projects with no end in sight.

If commute times do grow longer as our roads become overcrowded, then more people will consider using transit, giving the TTA and any other urban rail initiative a greater chance of success. If de-funding roads in the Triangle were pitched as a way to make more people use transit, then of course it would be shot down as social engineering, but with things like they are increased transit ridership could just end up as a pleasant side effect.

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Guys,

I work with some people who are privy to information about TTA's federal scrutiny over modeling issues. Depsite what is being said publically by the politicians and lawyers, there are real concerns internally among TTA staff that they won't meet the cost-benefit ratio set forth by FTA in Washington. They have hired a consultant to rework the model issues, but there are no guarantees. Throw in the tight competition for funding across the nation, and I think

TTA is looking at problems.

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Welcome to the forum ChiefJoJo!

I do wish they had done a bit more with the original plan for TTA--more stops, maybe a little different alignment in some spots, and more aggressive push for TOD around each stop. I'm sure the latter will come naturally but still... Charlotte did a better job planning their system IMO. Charlotte also did a better job trying to fund it. TTA could do more, and I hope that their miscalculations don't render the proposal completely inactive.

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