Unfortunately, there always seemed to be obstacles in the way: financing, questions about whether or not the public would use it and reluctant politicians. After last week, however, the likelihood of a regional rail system within the next decade has improved markedly.
First, there's financing. Last week, the N.C. General Assembly siphoned off $630 million from the 12-year-old Highway Trust Fund for new transportation projects.
The state has not been able to keep transportation projects up with the booming growth within the state -- especially in the Triangle. Updating our roadways and mass transit system is long overdue.
Now, the state Department of Transportation has some extra cash to spend. It has allocated $120 million to mass transit, of which $86 million will go toward building commuter rail lines by the Triangle Transit Authority and Charlotte Area Transit System.
Along with locally raised revenue, the TTA regional project still needs $100 million from the state. But this start-up money should help the state qualify for federal funds to begin construction by 2004.
But if they build it, will the people come?
Evidence seems to point toward rail travel's increasing popularity. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Amtrack ridership rose 15 percent.
Granted, people do not jump on a jet to get from Chapel Hill to RTP. But the South notoriously lacks mass transit enthusiasm, and the more rail travel becomes mainstream nationwide, the easier it will for regional rail to catch on.
And anyone who has stared at the pavement of Interstate 40 for 45 minutes while trying to get home from work would gladly jump on a high-speed train if it got him from Point A to Point B fast and conveniently.