Editor’s note: Jeff Mann is general manager of GoTriangle, the Triangle’s regional transit provider. WRAL TechWire asked GoTriangle to provide an overview of mass transit efforts as North Carolina and the Triangle continue to pursue the Amazon HQ 2 project. The availability of mass transit has been cited by Amazon as an important requirement for the location of the multi-billion-dollar project that offers the prospect of 50,000 jobs. The Triangle is one of 20 finalists for the project, according to Amazon. Sources told WRAL that Amazon officials recently toured the region.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In the Triangle are strong universities and colleges, medical centers and research and development industries, as well as impressive public schools and growing job centers. Everywhere, we see amazing entertainment venues and restaurants.

And connecting our 2 million Triangle residents to all of these places and more is a strong regional transit plan coming to life day by day.

Mapping light rail future in Triangle

We know people want to live and companies seek to locate in areas with a strong public transit system. With a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transit approved by Durham County voters in 2011, Orange voters in 2012 and Wake in 2016, we are on our way to building one together over the next decade.

Approved transit plans call for extensive bus service expansion within and across counties, a light-rail line connecting Chapel Hill and downtown Durham, commuter rail service from Durham through Raleigh to Garner in Wake County and five bus rapid transit corridors that will use a combination of dedicated lanes and priority signaling to get buses to their destinations more quickly.

Already, among other improvements, GoTriangle has expanded its Route 100, which serves Raleigh-Durham International Airport on its run between Raleigh and the Regional Transit Center in Durham, and Route 300, which runs from the Regional Transit Center to Cary and Raleigh. GoCary has added Sunday service to all six of its routes, and GoRaleigh and GoDurham have added frequency to their most popular routes.

GoTriangle has also added on-demand shuttle service within Research Triangle Park.

More investment coming

By 2028, transit investments in Wake County will triple the level of frequent bus service. That includes increasing existing service that runs at least every 15 minutes from 17 to 83 miles and improving links between colleges and universities, employment centers, medical facilities, dense residential areas, RDU and downtowns. To provide more coverage across the county, more routes will run every 30 or 60 minutes as well.

Durham’s plan includes a 44 percent increase in bus service, with all-day service at least every 15 minutes along key corridors. Durham also anticipates more frequent GoTriangle-operated regional service connections to Chapel Hill, Carrboro, RDU and Raleigh.  These improvements started in 2014 and will be fully implemented by 2020. Also, by 2020, transit agencies will have added 34,000 hours of bus service each year of the plan in Orange County.

When the rail projects are up and running, the bus service hours serving the same corridors can be reinvested into carrying people from transit stops to key destinations, such as the airport, and other connection points.

Light rail concept for Chapel Hill to Durham

Our community investments in transit already have made a difference. Residential real estate company Redfin, based in Seattle, recently noted that the Raleigh area had the highest increase in the nation in its annual Transit Score list, jumping 6.3 points from 2016 to 2017. The Transit Score algorithm uses the relative usefulness of public transit routes near a given location, with usefulness defined as distance to the nearest stop, frequency of the route and type of route, with twice as much weight given to rail than to bus service.

Durham-Orange light-rail plan

Targeted to begin service in 2028, the Durham-Orange light-rail line is expected to provide 26,000 passenger trips over 18 hours every weekday, running every 10-minutes at peak times and every 20 the rest of the day.

Triangle area bus routes

With 18 planned stops between N.C. Central University in Durham and UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, the line also will provide direct connections to downtown Durham, Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill, with close proximity and connections to Durham Technical Community College. It will serve major hospitals and medical facilities, including UNC, Duke and Durham VA Medical Centers, and three of the top 10 employers in the state.

Plans call for the light-rail and commuter rail lines to connect, and together with the significantly expanded bus service and bus rapid transit corridors, not to mention the Bus on Shoulder System that allows buses to bypass highway congestion, they will create a strong transit network that provides greater access to opportunities for everyone.

Our municipal and county leaders and planners are working together to coordinate and to create policies that take advantage of the increased prosperity and opportunities that better and more transit can bring to our already rich region.

A strong regional transit system isn’t a someday dream in the Triangle. The community has spoken, the plans have been approved and every day GoTriangle and its many partners are turning those investments into more mobility for us all.

About the author

Jeff Mann is General Manager.  He joined GoTriangle from the NC Department of Transportation in July 2015. As a deputy secretary at the NCDOT, he oversaw nonhighway transportation modes, which included aviation, bicycle and pedestrian, ferry, public transportation and rail.  As GoTriangle’s general manager, he helps direct more than 200 dedicated employees, providing service with 73 buses, 67 vanpool vans and 20 paratransit vehicles in Wake, Durham, Orange, Johnston and Alamance counties.

With almost 20 years of transportation planning and program management experience at NCDOT, Amtrak, Parsons Brinckerhoff and the N.C. Railroad Company, he’ll also help direct planning for the proposed 17-mile Durham-Orange Light-Rail Transit Project between UNC Hospitals, Duke University, the Duke and VA Medical Centers, downtown Durham and East Durham. He is also leading the agency’s supporting efforts on the completion of Wake County’s Transit Plan. Jeff holds an MBA from Wake Forest University and an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He and his family live in Raleigh.