Train Stations Make Innovation Clusters
I would like to commend the Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) and the Board of Orange County Commissioners (BOCC) for an exceptional job in developing a plan for our future transit infrastructure.
This plan calls for the creation of a light rail (LRT) segment between Chapel Hill and Durham. It also calls for a light rail segment from Cary to downtown Raleigh and further to north Raleigh. If you look at the maps on the TTA website you can also see that the segment between Durham and Cary not built initially but planned for a future phase will run on existing well maintained track making the expansion to complete the light rail line from Chapel Hill to North Raleigh via downtown Raleigh easily and inexpensively. This allows a light rail infrastructure that connects all 4 major population centers in a contiguous infrastructure. This means with proper scheduling a rider could commute anywhere between Chapel Hill and Raleigh easily without the need to make a time consuming transfer. Some people call for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) between Chapel Hill and Durham.
I think this would be a huge mistake in that it would create 2 different systems and infrastructure and dramatically increase commute times to Raleigh and reverse. The argument is that BRT is cheaper but in the long term the data shows that the operational costs of BRT are higher than LRT evening out the long term costs. BRT equipment has a much shorter life than rail and needs to be replaced more frequently. In Philadelphia they used subway and intercity equipment that was built in the 20’s and 30’s all the way into the 80’s and much of that equipment was sold to other cities which renovated and reused that equipment.
It’s easy to add more capacity to LRT, you just add a car to a train. BRT requires running another bus.
The initial TTA plan also calls for a commuter rail system between West Durham and East Raleigh on the same right of way the LRT and Amtrak utilize. Look at a map and see where the Amtrak lines run. They run right through Hillsborough, Burlington, Greensboro and High Point where marvelous new train stations have been either renovated or built (a beautiful new Hillsborough station will be built as a part of the initial TTA plan).
Amtrak has committed to a future stop at the Hillsborough station. Future TTA commuter service could easily be extended to Hillsborough, Burlington, Greensboro and High Point . This allows potential for commuting anywhere between High Point and Raleigh on a daily basis and potential for feeding these commuter stops with commuters living in rural areas. Take another look at a map. The Amtrak right-of-way goes right through downtown Mebane and Haw River. The addition of future new train stations and commuter service would stimulate much needed economic growth in the Mebane and Haw River areas. With an easy transfer in Durham, commuters could also transfer to the LRT system and commute to Chapel Hill and North Raleigh.
The plan calls for significant new bus hours and routes in Orange County. These additional hours will increase service to rural Orange County residents.
I believe this infrastructure would create a stimulus for just the kind of sustainable, dense walkable energy conserving growth we all desire.
Future US growth will be centered in innovation centers, and jobs will be centered in these clusters of knowledge and ideas. It’s estimated that 1 new innovation job creates 5 new non-innovation jobs (lawyers, doctors, service industry jobs, etc.). This has proven to be true in places like Seattle and Silicon Valley. Raleigh is one of the leading clusters of innovation (Research Triangle, IBM, SAS, etc.) right up there with Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Austin.
As much as we would like it to be so, manufacturing jobs will not come back to the US. They will continue to go to China and similar countries. Our best investment is in infrastructure that encourages growth in an innovation-based economy built around research, ideas and the new technology resulting from developing these ideas in the US. An example of this is Apple, their ideas for new ecosystem technology will originate in the US while they manufacture in China.
We can already see the stimulus for innovation industry growth related to TTA-planned infrastructure. Citrix is building a huge facility right next to the proposed new Raleigh train station. Citrix is doing this mainly to be close to this infrastructure. With the knowledge spillover and clustering, this will make Raleigh an innovation cluster, further promoting more new growth downtown. Similar development could be stimulated around the future Hillsborough train station as well.
Stepping back and looking at this plan can only result in a yes vote on the sales tax referendum.