Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Transportation: Mass appeal

In November, U.S. voters pledged $200 billion toward transit funding in cities and counties across the country.  Included was Wake County, where voters approved a half-cent sales tax to support a $2.3 billion plan to add commuter rail and increase bus service. With the extension of light rail service in Charlotte, a planned $2.5 billion light-rail system in Durham and Orange counties, and Wake’s commuter rail system between Garner and Durham, mass transportation options are set to explode in the next decade.


Mann has worked at the regional transportation authority for about 18 months after serving as a deputy secretary at the N.C. Department of Transportation. He not only oversees the transportation provider, he uses it, too. Mann takes the bus to work, a 17-mile commute from his home in north Raleigh to the Durham office.

Where do things stand on light rail in the Triangle?

The Durham-Orange Light Rail Project [will] operate between N.C. Central University in downtown Durham over to Duke University and terminate by UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. It’s a Durham-to-Chapel Hill system of about 17.7 miles. What I think is great about this project is it will serve three of the top 10 employers in North Carolina: Duke University, Duke University Health System and UNC. This project is not in isolation — it fits into a broader transit network. Wake County will triple the existing level of bus service over the next 10 years. Today in Wake County, there are only 17 miles of bus corridors that have 15-minute service [a new bus arriving every 15 minutes]. That will be increased to over 83 miles in the next 10 years. Fifty percent of homes and 70% of jobs will be within a half-mile of a transit stop. [The tax] will also fund the Wake County portion of a commuter-rail system. That will create a true multimodal system in Durham, Orange and Wake counties that will be linked by commuter rail, which will have transfers to light rail in downtown Durham.

How do you see attitudes changing toward mass transportation?

Wake, Durham and Orange counties continue to grow rapidly. Wake County alone is growing at 63 new residents a day. A lot of folks are taking transit for the first time, and they’re finding out it really improves their quality of life. When I do commute by automobile, it’s 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes each way, and that’s time lost where I could be productive on the bus. I think attitudes are changing around transit. Folks are no longer seeing it as a nice-to-have but a must-have. If we want to, as a region, compete for jobs and economic development with places like Austin, Portland, Seattle, Houston and Orlando, we have to provide these alternatives.


To continue to work with our partners in the region to advance the light-rail project and projects in the Wake County plan.

(That won’t be easy. Though voters in Durham and Orange counties approved ballot initiatives several years ago to invest in a light-rail system, a new state spending cap on transit means county and city governments will be asked to kick in more money to meet the goal of starting service in 2028.)

Allison Williams
Allison Williams
Allison Williams is senior editor of Business North Carolina. You can reach her at

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