WRAL: Wake voters to get say on tax for transit

The Wake County Board of Commissioners decided Monday to put a referendum on the November ballot to raise the local sales tax rate by a half-cent to pay for mass transit projects.

The unanimous vote came shortly after the commissioners adopted a $2.3 billion transit plan for the county. The county will be responsible for paying half the cost of the plan – state and federal transit dollars will account for the rest – and officials said a transit tax would raise an estimated $78 million a year.

"More than 1 million people now live in Wake County, and this plan will prepare us for today’s population growth and tomorrow’s traffic congestion," Board of Commissioners Chairman James West said.

Continued population growth in Wake County means that roads that haven't been built yet would be clogged with traffic by 2040 if the county doesn't expand mass transit options, officials said.

The transit plan calls for a 37-mile commuter rail line linking Raleigh and other points in Wake County with Research Triangle Park and Durham, where it would tie in with another proposed rail project between Durham and Chapel Hill. The plan also would expand bus routes across Wake County and increase the frequency of buses operating on some routes.

Several corporate executives spoke in favor of the plan, saying it would help them recruit and retain workers and drive economic development. Some people who already use transit said the bus system needs to be expanded.

"Mobility is the ticket to escaping the clutch of poverty. We wish we didn't have poverty in Wake County, but we are well-endowed," transit supporter Anne Franklin said. "It's also a boost to students and seniors, and I ask you, is there any other program that could deliver such a return?"

But several people spoke against the plan before commissioners approved it, saying it would be an economic drain on area families.


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