2006-04-27 Herald-Sun: 70 percent of Triangle residents back rail

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Poll: 70% of Triangle residents back rail

  • BY GREGORY PHILLIPS : The Herald-Sun
  • gphillipsspam@spamheraldsunspam.spamcom
  • Apr 27, 2006 : 12:17 am ET

DURHAM -- As many as 70 percent of Triangle residents still support a commuter rail link between Durham and Raleigh, and 61 percent think the federal government should help pay for it, according to poll results released Wednesday.

Of the 811 randomly sampled Durham, Orange and Wake County residents questioned April 12 by OnPoint Polling and Research of Raleigh, 70 percent said a variety of transportation options -- including regional rail -- ought to be part of the solution to traffic congestion.

"No matter how you slice up the demographic, people are in support of a rail system," said Chris Shigas, the publicist who presented the results Wednesday to the Triangle Transit Authority. The TTA commissioned the poll to gauge support for its plan to build an $810 million, 28-mile commuter rail line with 12 stops between Durham and Raleigh.

The TTA is currently working toward meeting cost-effectiveness standards by a Sept. 30 deadline to get $485 million in next year's federal budget. President Bush didn't include the project in his budget proposal, but the TTA is currently working to increase its ridership projections as it awaits a meeting with Federal Transit Administration officials to discuss the proposal.

The poll found 56 percent of people believing a rail system would spur economic development and 52 percent said they'd be more likely to vote for a political candidate who supported regional rail, with 22 percent less likely and 25 percent unsure.

The TTA has incorporated the poll results, which officials said have a 3 percent margin of error, into a video presentation that will form part of a campaign for elected leaders and the community to shore up support for the project.

"We need to be thinking 10, 15, 20 years out," said Durham County Chairwoman and TTA board member Ellen Reckhow. "I'm not necessarily seeing that mindset at other levels of government."

TTA General Manager John Claflin said the "noisy minority" opposing the project has focused on its struggles to meet federal guidelines rather than the need for the system, "which is a different issue entirely," he said.

"It's a quality of life issue," Claflin said.

David Hartgen, professor of transportation at UNC-Charlotte, didn't dispute the poll's results for the most part but called them irrelevant and said they "reflect people's misunderstanding of what transit can do."

Hartgen said widespread support for rail is why the FTA tightened its standards for projects to get funded -- which has steepened TTA's uphill climb to the federal mountaintop. He called the TTA proposal a "colossal waste of money" and said his studies suggest rail ridership would account for only one quarter of one percent of regional travel.

Missing out on federal funds for the rail project would be an opportunity for Triangle planners to refocus their efforts on relieving congestion on roads, Hartgen said. He suggested identifying and relieving bottlenecks by adding lanes and expanding busy interchanges would do far more to ease congestion than a rail system.

While planners continue to focus on rail systems, "the glue is thickening around our ankles," Hartgen said.

As the debate continues, TTA is pushing ahead with land acquisition along the proposed route and agreed Wednesday to pay $3.67 million for 1.31 acres of land in Raleigh for the terminus there. Through last Friday, TTA has spent $22.6 million to acquire 56.7 acres needed for the project and has about 93 percent of the land it needs, officials said.

Along with agreements finalized this week with Norfolk Southern for sharing of the N.C. Railroad corridor, "This gives us two big pops this week," TTA spokesman Brad Schulz said.