RALEIGH – A new study includes findings that may boost efforts to accelerate the Triangle’s plans for rapid transit, along two important dimensions: jobs and housing.

The new travel market analysis from the Triangle J Council of Governments studied the relationship of the proposed Greater Triangle Commuter Rail to the region’s jobs, finding that 30% of all jobs in Wake, Durham, Johnston, and Orange Counties, which the rail corridor would connect, are within one mile of the line, including eight of the top 10 employment centers in the region that together account for more than 200,000 jobs.

The study also found that of “all the primary jobs in the three counties that pay less than $40,000 a year, 23% are within the corridor,” according to a statement shared with WRAL by GoTriangle.

The Passenger Rail Corridor and Initial Station Study Areas. The final number and locations of stations is being decided through the Greater Triangle Commuter Rail Study. This map shows the initial station study areas as white dots. Image included in “Getting There: A Travel Market Analysis of the Triangle’s Passenger Rail Corridor” report.

“The data shows us that we are concentrating on the right corridor for rail,” says John Hodges-Copple, the metropolitan planning director at the Triangle J Council of Governments, which conducted the analysis.  “The line runs where people are already going cross county to work and where 12 of 15 proposed station areas have a high concentration of low-income people or those who lack cars, are near a job center or both. The rail corridor seems to do a good job of serving what we think are important travel markets.”

The latest study is a part of the final study phase for the Greater Triangle Commuter Rail Project, which would run some 37 miles across the counties.  The analysis could be used to help local governing boards decide to move forward to built the project.

An earlier analysis conducted last year by the Triangle J Council of Governments found that 27% of the existing affordable housing units in Wake, Durham, and Johnston Counties were within a mile of the rail corridor, as well, with 37% of the “legally binding affordable housing” in Durham located within a mile of the corridor.

Housing affordability in Triangle, across NC, a chief concern of business leaders at Economic Forecast Forum

“Housing is considered affordable when total housing costs, including utilities, don’t exceed 30% of your income,” said Yolanda Winstead, President and CEO, DHIC, at the Economic Forecast Forum, at a virtual panel event hosted on Friday by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and North Carolina Bankers Association, which WRAL TechWire covered live.

Using that measure, 55% of all U.S. neighborhoods are considered “affordable” for the typical household, the June 2021 report from the Triangle J Council of Government noted.  But when you factor in transportation costs, which aren’t included in affordability benchmarks despite the two expenses being highly correlated according to the report’s authors, the percentage of affordable neighborhoods drops to just 26%.

By connecting a transit corridor to neighborhoods where housing costs remain affordable for residents, enabling greater connectivity to jobs located along the corridor, the report’s authors conclude, “a high-quality transit network close to affordable housing would help many low-income Triangle residents reach job centers.”

Job Density. Image included in “Getting There: A Travel Market Analysis of the Triangle’s Passenger Rail Corridor” report.

Transit connections may be important

According to the latest study from the Triangle J Council of Governments, 45% of the workers who live in Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston Counties are employed by firms outside of the county where they live.

In Johnston County, the ratio is even higher, and was measured by the North Carolina Department of Commerce to be 51.5%, which in part prompted Johnston County Economic Development to launch a new platform designed to match county residents to jobs located within the county earlier this month.

The transit relationship between Wake County and Durham County was found to be especially prominent in the study’s analysis, with more than 96,000 workers choosing to live in one county but working in the other county.

In analyzing the data, the report’s authors found “there is adequate or better job density all along the rail corridor; of the 59,300 acres within the rail corridor, 48,900 acres (82%) are in block groups with moderate or better job density, and 24,200 acres (41%) are in block groups with high, very high or extremely high job density.”

Other key findings in the latest report include:

  • The identification of 930,000 jobs located in Johnston, Wake, Durham and Orange Counties, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 280,000 or about 30% of all jobs in the region within a mile of the proposed corridor, 200,000 of which are in one of eight employment centers;
  • Of those 280,000 workers in those jobs, 48 percent live in Wake County, 22 percent in Durham County, 5.7 percent in Johnston County, and 5.2 percent in Orange County;

“The region will continue to be fast‐growing, with the spine of the transit network along the rail corridor a magnet for growth,” a statement from Go Triangle, shared with WRAL, reads.

The Triangle J Council of Governments is in the process of conducting a third, and final, study for the current stage of the rail project, looking at land use along the rail corridor, and is expected to be completed later in the spring.

“It’s easy to see how a regional transit system including a commuter railroad will transform the way residents can access new employment opportunities,” said GoTriangle CEO and President Charles E. Lattuca in a statement.  “A transit project that connects our residents to eight of the top 10 job hubs in the area is a transit project we need. Commuter rail will work hand in glove with new bus rapid transit corridors and local bus investments to move our region forward.”