Bonfield fields street paving bond questions at INC
Price/Lawson to debate Fri. Oct. 8 at Durham Station

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for September 30, 2010

Apologies for the sparseness of my appearances here in recent days; we'll just say it's been an interesting one on the homefront and leave it at that. In the news:

Off Again, Maybe On Again?: Roy Taylor, the Republican challenger for Durham County sheriff, announced earlier this week he would withdraw from the race against incumbent Worth Hill for not meeting the residency requirements -- but now says he's still contemplating whether a temporary absence from Durham Co. during a divorce runs afoul of rules, since he intended and ultimately consummated a return to the county. Taylor tells local media that the residency question arose after he applied to renew a concealed carry permit, at which time the candidate claims a sheriff's office representative began passing the residency question along to local media outlets. This one's still worth (or is that Worth?) watching. (Indy Weekly #1, #2, #3; Herald-Sun)

Transit Plan in Focus: The hybrid transit plan for the Triangle calls for equally priced ($1.1-1.2 billion each), equal length (17-18 mile) light rail segments, one from UNC Hospitals to Alston Ave. via 15-501, the other from Cary to North Raleigh -- with an NCRR-tracked commuter rail system providing occasional service linking the city centers and suburbs. (Herald-Sun) It's still cheaper than the $3.5 billion cost today of the scuttled TTA rail plan that'd have connected Raleigh and Durham, but there are real questions about whether both lines would move forward first; despite equal ridership projections, Triangle Transit's projection of greater transit-oriented development potential on the Wake Co. side could leave that as the first phase. 

Ninth St. Development Plans: Terry Sanford Jr. and Clay Hamner are moving forward with planning requests for a possible 300 multi-family residential project on part of the field between Erwin Mills and Ninth Street North/Erwin Square. A hotel is still possible on part of the site and there's been talk of other commercial development to boot. The developers have been shopping ideas around to neighborhood representatives and businesses and will be meeting with Planning officials soon. (Herald-Sun)

Water Bill Snafus: At least five customers have received water bills over $10,000 in error, including some who have had meter change-outs; in a couple of cases the City tried to draft the funds from the homeowners' bank accounts and turned off service when the bills weren't paid. City manager Tom Bonfield has asked that his office be directly notified of any such problems. Other households are complaining about multi-hundred dollar or low-thousands bills. (N&O)

Charter Schools Sue: Five Durham charter schools have filed a pair of lawsuits against Durham Public Schools for $1.2m they say is owed them under a Char-Meck court decision on charter funding formulas. Some are claiming the district owes them $300k-$500k, versus offers of payment DPS made in the spring of one-tenth that amount in some cases. (N&O)

Minimal Meals: DPS used to have a policy that withheld food from children whose parents were behind on paying the meal ticket bill, but switched that a couple of years ago to provide meals -- increasing the cost of unpaid meals to the district from $300k to $450k. In a compromise, the district is considering instead providing a "courtesy meal" to such children (a sandwich and juice), saving $250k in the process, while pressing to ensure full enrollment in free/reduced cost meal programs for children in need. (Herald-Sun) (Though we have to wonder whether there'll be any stigma to eating the "courtesy meal" in the lunchroom.) 

Gates Speaks: Defense Sec. Robert Gates spoke to Duke faculty and students yesterday in a national-profile event on campus. In his talk, Gates highlighted the growing economic and geographic disparity of an all-volunteer force that does not draw from the well-to-do and the northeast and urban areas, diminishing a sense of shared sacrifice; additionally, such a force was never expected to be participating in long, multi-year conflicts like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Herald-Sun)

Motorco Featured: The Indy has a nice profile on Motorco Music Hall, which is aspiring with its hopefully 500-head space to appeal to the kinds of acts that grace Cat's Cradle and Raleigh's Lincoln Theatre, and looks at the owners' backgrounds and plans for the converted car dealership. (Indy Weekly)

Comments

Parrish

"Gates highlighted the growing economic and geographic disparity of an all-volunteer force that does not draw from the well-to-do and the northeast and urban areas, diminishing a sense of shared sacrifice..."

Duke could have reminded him that three former Duke lacrosse players from the northeast are now serving in the military (two in the Marines and one in the Army); and that another, Sgt. James Regan, gave his life in Iraq in 2007. They didn't join up because of financial deprivation, but out of a sense of patriotism.

Ed Harrison

Kevin, you write: "Triangle Transit's projection of greater transit-oriented development potential on the Wake Co. side could leave that as the first phase."
This is not the basis for the Wake project potentially happening first.
Here's what Ray wrote in his story:
"Engineers could design the Cary-to-Triangle Town Center line more quickly because it would follow part of the route Triangle Transit's old plan had envisioned using, he said." (Statement by consultant Bill Martin). This mirrors exactly what I was told by Triangle Transit staff earlier this week.(I'm one of their board members). Because a full environmental study (EIS) was done on the earlier TTA project, all those data are available and potentially useful for sections of the current plan in the same locations. Much more of the Wake corridor would use existing track corridors, all well-studied by the earlier EIS. A significant percentage of the Durham-Chapel Hill corridor has no current tracks. This is one major basis for the Wake project potentially happening earlier.

Todd Patton

Is there more detail available about the Durham/Chapel Hill corridor, such as where on Alston Ave this would connect? Is this Alston Ave near NC 54, or near NC 147?

Rob Gillespie

@Todd-
Near NC 147. See the plans here:

http://www.ourtransitfuture.com/index.php/the-vision/study-corridors/

The corridor under study as phase I is the oh-so-slightly-darker red on the Durham-Orange map.

Brad Schulz

All information on the future transit planning effort can be found at ourtransitfuture.com. Go to newsroom, then project materials to view all materials presented at our second round of meetings that just ended. A final round of meetings is scheduled for spring.

There is a link for you to post comments to the project team.

Hula hoop

No way I am voting for a tax increase so that wake county can build their train first. These people still don't get it after 20 years. People want train service to the airport and that still is not in the plan. I'll be driving my car, not taking the train it appears. This area just isn't suited for a train anyway. It's too spread out and besides people like to drive their cars. Better figure out another way to solve global warming.

Michael Bacon

Hula hoop:

a) We have to build tracks (apparently because the University Station coal line is off the table, much to my chagrin). Wake doesn't.

b) There really is basically no demand to justify a high volume link to the airport. The proposals from TT and NCRR to do "commuter rail," with like 12-20 trains per day, would be more than enough to handle service to the airport.

Jonathan Parker

I am a planner for Triangle Transit, and I would like to clear up a few misconceptions.

To be clear, the article states that the Wake corridor "could" be advanced more quickly due to the availability of previous planning and design work that was done several years ago as a part of the regional rail project that was not ultimately funded or completed. We anticipate at this point that work in Wake may be able to advance more quickly, however in all cases, there's plenty of work to accomplish.

Also, to be able to construct light rail, 2 new tracks would have to be constructed in all locations, so this would be true in Durham-Orange as well as in Wake. Technically, if a light rail project were to be advanced connecting Durham to Chapel Hill, there is a small segment of that corridor that also had some previous planning and design work done. This includes a segment from Alston Ave (near the main railroad tracks) to Ninth Street and over to Duke Medical Center. The issue is with the remaining segment from Duke Medical Center to UNC, where there has been a lower level of planning and design work done. Although good land use planning has been done over the years to reserve this corridor for transit purposes, this is the area that we expect may take more time to develop.

The proposal for commuter rail service linking the eastern and western sides of the region *would* share existing tracks with freight and Amtrak service that use the Durham-Cary-Raleigh corridor today. This would also mean constructing some sections of new tracks in certain locations to increase carrying capacity.

Although rail gets the most attention, there is a concerted effort underway with our transit partners to plan additional bus service for all three counties. This is the type of service that most residents would see initially after a positive vote, and is an absolutely critical component of an overall transit program.

There is a lot going on right now to narrow our focus, so we expect to have a good deal more clarity on the entire package of transit improvements early next year.

Saddened Teacher

"Courtesy" meals have been used in the past, and what I saw with my students was far from courteous. There is no way of knowing that the child does not have money in his/her account until (s)he has already gone through the hot line and picked out a tray of hot food and milk. Upon reaching the cashier and discovering the child owes money the tray of hot food is taken away and replaced with the courtesy meal. Please keep in mind that this takes place in the line around other children and the tray of hot food taken away cannot be given to another person for sanitation reasons and must therefore be thrown away. How exactly does this save money?

Kevin Davis

@Jonathan, Ed -- thanks for writing in to clarify.  Just to note (and this is not clear from the way it is framed here), I was offering up the mention of development potential as an afterthought to the H-S coverage, not implying this was in their story.  My understanding from someone who attended the Triangle Transit forum in Durham was that the Wake segment was implied to have high transit-oriented development (TOD) potential compared to low TOD potential on the western half of the Triangle.  It was not clear from those conversations that this was seen as a matter of timing versus overall potential.

Given the key role of TOD in justifying Federal funding of such projects, I and others are concerned that this designation would lead to a significantly delayed start to Durham-Orange participation in a light rail system.  And the concern is borne out of experiences elsewhere; ask folks who live along the second-most viable rail corridor in Charlotte how excited they are that the Blue Line is running but they may be 10-15+ years away themselves.

If both counties participate in a system but only the Wake segment is considered viable, the NCRR commuter rail proposal -- with the inclusion of at least some midday service -- is a minimum consideration as far as I am concerned if the sales tax is to get my vote.

Some of this is a fait accompli, given that Wake represents 70% of sales tax revenue for the region, and if our dollars are to be spent geographically proportionate to the source of collection, and the ridership numbers are the same, well, not much that can be done there. On the other hand, even among a very pro-transit voter like me, I would want some assurance that the Wake system would not be the only committed piece of the project before I vote yes in a referendum.

Two other interesting wrinkles on this:

1) I am curious what happens if a referendum passes in Orange and Durham but not Wake, which is entirely possible given the politics of the communities -- even though there has been some reason to worry about Durham given PAC intrigue.

2) Whither the new RTP master plan? The Park does not today have the density to justify transit, but what happens if the master plan creates a massive node of density along the NCRR corridor? Yes, commuter rail would work for that, but it might change the whole plan picture, too.

Lots of questions. And my thanks to Triangle Transit for working to get out the answers. But there are a lot of behind the scenes conversations happening, and there is very real regional politics being played (as I am sure you are aware, but not all readers might be) on just how the transit pie gets divvied up between communities.

Pardon me if I am a little skeptical about a North Raleigh to Cary line getting a head start on Durham-Chapel Hill as being a good thing for the Bull City.

Frank Hyman

@ Saddened Teacher

Wow, I hope some reporter picks up on that bit of news.

Meanwhile, check out this CBS report on public school lunches in France.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6902333n&tag=contentMain;contentBody/

Jonathan Parker

Kevin,

Good comments.

On the transit oriented development (TOD) issue, our consultants have revised the land use assessment from the initial draft report. Assessing transit supportive land use is not an entirely clear cut issue, and there are myriad factors that contribute to achieving successful TOD. Our consultants focused primarily on two factors: local govt. regulatory support (existing comprehensive land use plans, zoning), and development potential (amount and possible shape of future development). The estimates from the region's planners have shown that corridors in Wake are projected to have more growth than those in Durham and Orange. While the "bulk" of overall growth may indeed by higher in Wake, which might lead one to believe those corridors would score higher, we did not think adequate consideration had been given to the performance of land use policies in the initial assessment. While the revised report improves in this regard, there will still be a lot more work on transit-supportive land use planning as we move forward.

You can read the executive summary & full "Transitional Analysis" report here: http://www.ourtransitfuture.com/index.php/newsroom/project-materials/

What would happen with a positive Orange & Durham vote, but not in Wake? The transit services in those counties that could be implemented would move forward, and those in Wake that could not, wouldn't. The same would be true in other scenarios. I don't know if this would happen here, but in some regions (Seattle-Tacoma region in 2007 & 2008, for example), a close negative vote (maybe 47-49% positive) has often been followed by a revised plan and positive vote shortly thereafter. Every region and community is unique, and what they found in Seattle was the addition of a highway package to the 2007 transit ballot actually hurt support from the environmental community, especially in more progressive-minded Seattle. The 2008 measure removed the highways, and was successful by a fairly wide margin. Again, I'm not suggesting this would happen here--this is just one possibility given the scenario you described.

Certainly, it will be interesting to follow the RTP's planning process as they move along. However, with regard to transit planning, let's be clear. Clusters of walkable, mixed use, transit-supportive development in RTP would only be *enhanced* by the inclusion of any kind of improved transit service--especially a capital intensive fixed guideway investment, be it commuter rail or something else. However, a more compact, walkable development pattern does not *depend* on this type of service to be successful. We have a number of successful examples in the region that exemplify this to varying degrees: Southern Village, Meadowmont, North Hills, Ninth Street (Station Nine), Davis Park, etc. The key question here is 'how strong is your commitment to supporting compact, walkable, urban development?'

This is an critical point that the region must understand as we redesign our communities, and make tough choices about how we allocate scarce public resources.

As always, we want to hear from the public about how we are doing, so please contact our team at http://www.ourtransitfuture.com/index.php/contact/. We will be holding a final series of public meetings in the February timeframe that will provide a more focused look at some of the transit investments being planned in the region.

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