With the Triangle Expressway about to start construction at a price tag of over 1 billion dollars, those caught at the bus stop in the rain this morning could be forgiven for wondering why expanding public transportation in the Triangle requires a referendum in three counties, while big roads catering to urban sprawl get an accelerated construction schedule and no voter review.
All of us who are tired of the drive commute and want this state’s public transportation to catch up with, well, at least north-eastern standards – let’s forget Europe and Asian cities – may well be asking this question today. It’s not that we aren’t extremely happy that a bill allowing counties to put a public transportation sales tax option to the people and that allows all counties to levy higher (or new) vehicle registration fees to maintain and modestly expand current services is now sitting on the Governor’s desk.
The problem is that, for all the excitement of the passage of H 148 this session – the bill granting 99 counties a new public transportation local referndum option – the Perdue administration’s re-boosting of the toll road strategy to solve urban congestion makes it clear that while our transportation policy has made great strides in recent months much work still has to be done. We now have a roads-plus strategy, which is better than a roads strategy, but far from the mixed transportation mode strategy many of us, including sections of commerce, seek.
Right now the legislature is essentially telling public transportation supporters that yes, yes, you can have some more buses but not too many, but if you want trains and if you want lots more buses, you’ll have to ask your father about that.
The contrast between the public transportation expansion process and the road expansion process couldn’t be more stark. Want a train? Run an expensive referendum campaign after countless reviews of the spending plan from local governments and authorities. During one government committee discussion as H 148 wound its way through the legislature it emerged that any Triangle public transportation expansion plan will have to endure review from seventeen elected and appointed bodies before it gets put to the people. Yikes. Everyone, as my Antipodean relatives are fond of saying, will be in for their chop.
No vote on a toll road is there? Seventeen review bodies? Don’t think so.
This contrast caused some legislators who are supporters of public transportation some degree of heartburn during the passage of H 148. Why not just give local governments the authority to levy a sales tax to fund expanded public transportation? Why the special treatment? Why does the state spend on public transportation continue to be so low?
In other countries where toll roads have been hoisted on the population people have voted with their feet, er, vehicles. ‘Don’t drive the toll road’ is a popular cry. In some cases this has caused toll road companies and authorities to request a government bailout because traffic projections have been too optimistic and bankruptcy and/or loan default beckon.
If that’s the best we can hope for here, it’s not quite a referendum is it?