• photo illustrations courtesy of TTA

Triangle Transit planners launched a new round of “alternatives analysis” workshops last night at Triangle Town Center. Subject: Rail transit — now proposed to be a hybrid commuter-rail and light-rail system — for the region. Another workshop is slated this evening, 4-7 p.m., in Durham and a third is tomorrow, same time, in Chapel Hill. Two more Raleigh sessions are scheduled next week along with one in Cary and one in RTP. For locations and times, see the project website. I wrote an article for the printed Indy this week. I’ll put a link in here (with a sidebar here — it’s in two parts now) when the story is posted online later today. Consider this effort a pictoral introduction, with pretty illustrations courtesy of TTA below.

In Wake County, the proposed light-rail line will link Cary/Morrisville/RTP to Raleigh using the main Amtrak-freight rail corridor past the State Fairgrounds and N.C. State University. Where is goes after that is the big “alternative” in the room at these workshops. The TTA has put out three option, two of which involve a bridge over Boylan Avenue:

1) One option is to bring the light-rail line out of the main corridor west of Boylan Avenue and then bridge it over S. Boylan and W. Hargett Street. That would allow a direct connection to — and a station stop within — the proposed Union Station at West Street between W. Hargett and W. Morgan. The image above is a close-up of what the bridge would look going over Boylan. Below is a wide view showing its connection to the Union Station site and — eventually — to a northbound route up West Street or Harrington Street.

2) A second option would also bring the light rail line out of the main corridor west of Boylan Avenue and bridge it over S. Boylan, but then it would swing to the south, where it could connect to another alternative — a streetcar loop running on Salisbury and Wilmington streets. This is shown below in two images, one a closeup at the current Amtrak station location and the other a wide view. As you can tell from the length of the span, this would be the most expensive option.

3) The third option doesn’t involve a bridge, but it has its own complications. The light-rail line would come out of the main corridor at W. Morgan Street, just below Charlie Goodnight’s and Irregardless, and then track into the West Side district on W. Morgan — streetcar-style — before looping north on Harrington. (TTA did not do a photo illustration of it.)

Because the main railroad corridor is virtually at-grade where it abuts W. Morgan, no bridge is needed to make the connection there. However, W. Morgan drops in elevation as it moves east and is dropping right where the front door of the Union Station would be; thus, a station stop there is highly problematic, if not impossible, given ADA access requirements. Unless the street configuration is changed somehow, any “Union Station stop” would be near Union Station but not at it or in it. Which is kind of a big problem.

There was much talk last night among the TTA planners and a contingent of Raleigh city officials who came out (Russ Stephenson, Eric Lamb, Ken Bowers, Roberta Fox) about whether a West Morgan streetcar line (option 3) could be made to work with Union Station. No resolution on that subject, or none that I heard.
What I did hear is that TTA means to defer to Raleigh’s view on this — in other words, if Raleigh wants the W. Morgan route, then TTA will back it and help it become the “locally preferred alternative” — a term freighted with meaning in federal funding parlance. That doesn’t mean that the TTA folks don’t have their own views. What it means is that, as a political reality, they understand that it’s up to Raleigh where the Raleigh light-rail line goes.

Or rather, it’s up to Raleigh and then it’s up to CAMPO, where Raleigh has a major voice but not the only one.