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Faster buses, commuter train: Wake County’s long-term transit plan, explained.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Raleigh Convergence is no longer publishing, as of April 1, 2022. Read more.
The R-Line in Downtown Raleigh in 2020.

Now is the time to give input on Wake County’s long term, 10-year transit plan. As Wake County grows, the plan also changes.

Not sure what the plan includes? Read on for quick primer on the Wake County Transit plan, below, and highlighted updates.

Or, dig in to the draft plan document here before giving your comment

Transit plan timeline: The original plan was for 10 years — 2018-2027. That’s been extended to 2030 with this update. 

The big picture: The Wake County Transit Plan focuses on four “big moves”: connecting the Triangle region, connecting different Wake County communities, creating more frequent and reliable urban mobility, and access to transit.

The big financial investments of the plan are a planned Commuter Rail and four Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines. Feedback from the last 18 months confirmed those priorities, according to the draft plan.

🗣️ Also up for comment: The 2022 work plan and the community engagement policy update.

What types of transit are included in the plan?

🚍 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): BRT is a high-capacity bus system with fast and efficient service. It can include dedicated lanes and traffic signal priority. Four BRT routes are a part of the Wake County Transit plan. 

These routes would have frequency of 15 minutes or better, and “speed is dependent on the level of capital improvements and distance between stops.” 

  • New Bern BRT, going east from the Downtown Raleigh core, is expected to begin operations between 2023-2025.
    • The furthest along in the planning process, planners are also seeking community partners and neighborhood ambassadors now. [learn more]
  • Western BRT, going west from Downtown Raleigh to Cary, connecting NC State and Downtown Cary, would start between 2026-2028.
  • Southern BRT, which would go south to Garner, is anticipated to start in the 2027-2029 timeframe, and
  • Northern BRT, the last of the four, not yet in the planning process, could begin between 2028-2030. 

According to the plan, Wake BRT extensions to Research Triangle Park (Western) and Clayton, in Johnson County, could begin in the 2028-2030 timeframe. 

🚉 Commuter Rail Transit (CRT): A train operating on shared tracks with freight and Amtrak vehicles in the freight right-of-way. 

How often: Eight trips each way per day, once per hour during peak times and two trips midday and evening, under the current plan. The proposed plan envisions reliable 45 minutes or less between Raleigh and Durham.

When: The updated cost and feasibility report expects the commuter rail could open in 2029. [read more]

🚍 Fixed-route: “Transit routes that operate on the same route on a published schedule,” as defined by the draft plan. This includes high frequency (like the Frequent Network), conventional bus service (routes running every 30 to 60 minutes) and Express bus service, which typically targets commuters traveling longer distances.

🚍 Demand-responsive/On-demand: Transit service that varies each trip based on the need of the individual users.

The Four Big Moves in the 2030 plan

The basis of the plan, since the beginning, talks about focusing on four main areas.

Connecting all Wake County communities:

What’s happening now: All Wake County communities are connected with fixed-route bus service as of 2020, plus increased service to RTP and RDU.

What’s next: Apex, Morrisville and RTP increased span and frequency is planned, while some routes won’t reach the original planned reach and frequency.

Updates to the draft plan: 

  • “Bus rapid transit services are planned to connect RTP, Morrisville, Cary, Raleigh, and Garner. 
  • Thirty-minute all-day services will connect RTP, the airport, Garner, and the Wake Tech campus on the northern edge of Fuquay-Varina. 
  • Apex will receive service that operates every 30 minutes during rush hour and 60 minutes the rest of the day. 
  • Sixty-minute all-day services will connect to Knightdale and Wake Forest. 
  • Peak-focused services, including the regional commuter rail, are provided to and between other communities and destinations. 
  • BRT infrastructure such as dedicated busways, will benefit all buses using those routes.” 
Draft plan graphic

Connecting the Triangle region

The current transit plan would fund Wake County’s part of a new 37-mile commuter rail service between Garner and Duke University in Durham, going along the North Carolina Railroad corridor. 

The commuter rail would connect: Garner, Raleigh, North Carolina State University, Cary, Morrisville, RTP, Durham and Duke University.

It could be extended to Clayton or further into Johnston County, depending on financial support from federal, state or Johnston County sources. 

Express bus routes would help connect Wake County residents to Orange County (Chapel Hill, Hillsborough) and RDU Airport. 

Bus Rapid Transit would extend to Research Triangle Park and Clayton by 2030, according to the plan, though that would require getting funds beyond the original Wake County Transit Plan. 

Success will rely on others: “Funding many of the investments for this Big Move will involve agreements with other counties,” the draft plan says.

“Although this plan makes reasonable assumptions about a Wake County share, the agreements are not yet in place.”

The transit plan updates include: 

  • “Improvements to express bus service between Wake and Durham Counties completed as of 2020  
  • Improvements to service to RDU completed as of 2020  
  • Commuter rail construction planned to be completed in the 2028-2030 timeframe, with potential extension to Clayton and operations beginning by 2030  
  • Wake BRT extensions to Research Triangle Park and Clayton added to plan to begin operations in the 2028-2030 timeframe”

Creating frequent, reliable urban mobility

The proposed frequent transit network (service 15 minutes or more frequent) focuses more on areas close to employment centers and population density. BRT is a central element to this part of the plan. 

The plan aims to increase the size for the frequent transit network from 17 miles to about 99 miles in Raleigh and Cary, an increase from the originally planned 83 miles. 

The update also includes an extension of the Western BRT, originally planned from Downtown Raleigh to Cary, would extend to RTP and be added to the frequent service network. 

The draft plan says it will double the number of people and jobs with access to frequent transit.

Other plan updates: “More frequent service on GoRaleigh Route 11, Avent Ferry, extension of frequent service along Glenwood to Duraleigh Road.”

Enhancing access to transit

The plan would increase hours of operation and area of coverage for fixed routes, especially in Raleigh and Cary. 

Funding will increase for access outside of fixed routes through GoWake Access and paratransit services. 

“The Plan also includes a Community Funding Area Program that provides a 50% match for 10 Wake County towns and the RTP to plan, design, and operate transit services designed to meet local needs.” 

Updates include: 

  • “To date, 47% of all bus service expansion investment, measured in terms of the total amount of funding for expansion of bus service programmed for the original Wake County Transit Plan, has been implemented  
  • 100% of originally planned funding for Community Funding Area Program and GoWake Access services are still included  
  • Allows for over 90% of originally planned bus service expansion, measured in terms of total spending, to be funded within the 2030 horizon. 
  • Funding constraints identified through the transit plan update process and the overall desire of the Wake County community to fund the signature components of the original plan (e.g., BRT and commuter rail) resulted in some very limited reductions to originally planned bus service expansion.”

What’s next (updated May 3):

GIVE YOUR FEEDBACK: GoTriangle’s site for public comment by March 31. (now closed)

GoTriangle published a new website about the planned commuter rail, which includes an interactive map of proposed stations (though nothing’s final yet). 

🚆 Catch up: Commuter rail and a better bus system (bus rapid transit, connectivity) are key components of 2030 Wake Transit Plan. [explained]

🚆 What’s new: The survey results from earlier this year show reliability, helping mitigate car traffic congestion and connectivity are the top priorities.

The proposed station map includes key connectivity details, such as nearby bus lines, park and ride options, sidewalk availability.


Author: raleighconvergence

Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen is the editor of Raleigh Convergence.

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