It’s called an alternatives analysis. That means the Triangle Transit Authority is going to weigh doing various kinds of something against doing nothing to improve bus and rail transit services in the region. Step one: hearing from you. Where should transit go? Should it take the form of buses? What kind? How about rail transit — should it be “commuter” style, with mainly rush-hour service? Or a true transit system that runs 24/7 with frequent arrivals and lots of stations?

The first of a series of public meetings takes place today, 5:30-8 pm at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Transit advocates, including the TTA’s leaders, are itching to put a 1/2-cent sales tax for transit to a vote in Wake, Durham and Orange counties in 2011 or the spring of 2012. Before they do, they need to settle on a long-range plan that they can sell to the public. That’s what these meetings are all about.

A basic question to be settled: What kinds of transit connections should there be between Raleigh and Durham? Commuter-rail service would mean morning and afternoon connections along the corridor from Johnston County through Raleigh, RTP and Durham and over to Hillsborough and Burlington. But during the day, service would be scant. On the other hand, a light-rail system would make frequent Raleigh-Cary-RTP-Durham runs, with many stops, but it would cost much more.

In Wake County, the business community seems much more intent on running light-rail transit, if it happens at all, up the Capital Boulevard corridor toward Wake Forest. Not, in other words, toward Durham.

Pushing back is Raleigh Councilor Thomas Crowder, who argues that the point of transit should be to connect the region, not disconnect it. Thus, he’s determined that a light-rail system from downtown Raleigh should “go west, young man,” rather than northeast. statement, from a recent email blast to his constituents:

It is obvious that creating a First Phase Regional “Light Rail” connection between the Triangles major population centers (Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill) makes sense. First there are over 60,000 car trips a day on I-440 between Raleigh | Cary and RTP. Anyone who travels this corridor understands stand-still morning and evening traffic is almost a daily occurrence Durham and Orange Counties public officials are committed to connecting Chapel Hill and Durham with light rail in their First Phase. Connecting Downtown Raleigh, NC State, the Fairgrounds, Arena, Art Museum and I-40 | NC 54 Interchange and on towards RDU and Durham affords ridership opportunities to reduce congestion on SW Raleigh’s road networks, provides logical rail connections for Convention Center visitors with major entertainment and cultural amenities located in SW Raleigh, but just importantly to you and our communities, it provides enormous economic development benefits for the District, attracting much needed services and quality of life improvements for SW Raleigh residents.

Light rail will provide multiple stops between Downtown and I-440, verses potentially only one stop on the NC State Campus for commuter, or “express” rail service. Multiple stops potentially located at the West Morgan area, NC State, Gorman Street, the Fairgrounds, Dysfunction Junction (Jones Franklin | Hillsborough | Western) and the NC 54 Interchange at I-440 will bring financial benefits and furnish regional transportation alternatives for the entire District, verses our residents being limited with commuter rail service. These multiple stops will attract density and mixed-use activities at the appropriate locations. This will work to preserve our existing neighborhoods, parks and open spaces, as well as make District D’s existing neighborhoods much more attractive to future home buyers.