11/11/04 — Local officials push for rail

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Local officials push for rail

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on November 11, 2004 2:00 PM

RALEIGH -- North Carolina could never build enough roads to eliminate traffic congestion, a Goldsboro businessman told a legislative committee Wednesday.

"The highway building frenzy that began at the end of World War II has not accomplished its objectives," Sandy Korschun said. "Why do we keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results?"

Instead, Korschun urged the N.C. House members to invest more in passenger and freight rail service.

"This would be a major dynamic change -- are you up for it?" he asked on behalf of an eight-member Wayne County delegation.

Groups from Fayetteville and western North Carolina also appealed for more rail money to the House Interim Committee on Expanding Rail Service. Next month, the committee is expected to consider options for a Raleigh-to-Wilmington passenger line.

But a state transportation planner told the committee that the state's transportation needs will vastly outstrip its available money for decades to come.

A 25-year forecast found at least $84 billion in needs in all areas of transportation, while North Carolina's population is expected to grow another 25 percent, said engineer Laura Cove. But the state is only expected to have $55 billion to spend.

That means the DOT will have to focus more on maintaining and upgrading its existing transportation system, she said. Little money will be available for startups.

Pat Simmons, director of the DOT's rail division, said the state has spent considerable amounts on money on rail service over the past 15 years.

The Carolinian, a twice-daily passenger train between Charlotte and Raleigh, has 418,000 riders a year, and its travel time between the cities is about three hours, the same as it takes by car, he said.

The DOT would like to add additional daily trips to the route, Simmons said. With continued improvements to the tracks, the DOT is projecting a nearly 1.8 million ridership by 2025.

The state is also planning to open passenger rail service between Salisbury and Asheville, although funding has not yet been received.

The rail division has also been studying resuming rail service to Wilmington. The two possible routes are through Goldsboro and Fayetteville

The Wayne County group also included County Commissioners Atlas Price and Jack Best; County Manager Lee Smith; Mount Olive Mayor Ruff Huggins; businessmen Dean Gurley and Dave Quick; and Goldsboro lawyer Charlie Gaylor.

N.C. Rep. Louis Pate of Mount Olive is a co-chairman of the House Interim Committee on Expanding Rail Service and helped moderate Wednesday's meeting. The committee is scheduled to meet three times before the N.C. General Assembly's 2005 session.

The committee's next meeting will be Tuesday, Dec. 14, at which it is likely to receive a recommendation from DOT Secretary Lyndo Tippett on the Wilmington route.