The Wake County commissioners’ discussion of the county’s transit plan Sept. 3 was brilliantly offset by the agenda item that came just before it.
Commissioners first heard about the painful delays with the implementation of the state’s NC FAST program — an electronic case management system designed to help families in need apply and be approved for multiple benefits in just one step.
As the county’s Human Services Assistant Division Director Liz Scott shared, trying to roll out the program has been an exercise in frustration.
Last month, commissioners heard from local activists that the excessive delay in the approval process has sent more folks than ever to local food banks, churches and other such programs.
Scott outlined to commissioners reasons for the delay, most of which are not specific to NC FAST (see story elsewhere in paper), but are inherent with any gargantuan government program.
There simply isn’t a way, or at least no one has found one, for a government program to operate leanly, or, it seems, to stick to a timetable.
Which is why the decision to create a small panel of experts to evaluate transit needs and solutions was the wise move.
It’s too easy to engage in group-think and approve ridiculously expensive light rail plans simply because other counties think it’s great, as commissioner Betty Lou Ward opined, “Our fellow counties (Durham and Orange) have indeed moved forward and left us behind.”
Ever since the 2009 Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) released their long-range plan for the region, followed by the 2011 release of a draft Wake County transit plan, advocates of rail, like WakeUp Wake County and Capital Area Friends of Transit, have pushed for commissioners to take action based on those recommendations, which include expansion of bus service, commuter rail service on mostly existing train tracks and the construction of light rail.
But as soon as CAMPO released their recommendations, which commissioners never formally reviewed, others responded with just as convincing figures to show why rail should not be an option, maybe ever.
In particular, concerns swirl around the $4.6 billion price tag along with the permanent increase in county sales taxes, increase in vehicle registration fees, higher vehicle rental fees, transit bonds, increased rider fares and, potentially unavailable, state and federal funds.
No one disputes that transit service in Wake County needs an overhaul, and that the best place to begin is with improved bus service.
But the rest of the plan does not seem to be, according to David Hartgen, emeritus professor of transportation studies at UNC-Charlotte, either technically or financially feasible.
Hartgen conducted an extensive review of the transit plan last year and found the report to be heavily based on unlikely population growth projections. Even though the plan would consume more than 40 percent of transportation dollars, less than 1 percent of commuters would benefit and there would be negligible impact on traffic congestion or improvement in the environment.
More troubling, Hartgen asserted that the transit plan “contains numerous optimistic assumptions, errors of fact or omission and calculations that are at variance with standard practice in the transit industry.”
Karen Rindge of WakeUp Wake County and Capital Area Friends of Transit objected to the appointment of an independent transit panel saying commissioners should work with what has already been developed. “An estimated $5 million in taxpayers money has already been spent in developing that plan,” Rindge wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
But the amount already spent is barely one tenth of 1 percent of the proposed transit plan price tag; which makes going back to the drawing board all the more appealing.
This is a time to be supremely cautious. No one wants to see the county embark on a transit plan program, hit the point of “no return” and find costly overruns, lack of growth and ridership, declining state and federal subsidies and a need to raise taxes and fees even more to prop it up.
It was a wise move by the board of commissioners to finally take the transit plan out of the garage and begin to look it over. It is even a wiser move to prudently send the issue to independent experts who can make the evaluations based on solid data and research.
After last week’s editorial, Some things are better left at home, we heard from one Rolesville reader who believed other readers might misunderstand this newspaper’s criticism of the school system’s lack of enforcement of the student code of conduct at after-school events.
A young woman’s deliberate wardrobe malfunction was not indicative of Rolesville or even Rolesville High, which had just opened. Nor was it meant to point fingers at Rolesville High staff who were unaware of the woman’s lack of proper clothing when she entered.
Instead, we called on the county school system to enforce the dress code on school property at all times and for all people. This way, gatekeepers would be empowered to prevent entry to improperly attired students and adults alike, which would certainly be in keeping with the system’s ethos.