As they leave GoTriangle’s Board of Trustees, longtime members Ed Harrison and William “Bill” Bell were celebrated Wednesday for their commitment to transit and for their dedication to the agency’s mission of making effective public transportation the foundation of the region’s community, prosperity and mobility.
Chapel Hill Town Councilman Michael Parker and new Durham Mayor Steve Schewel were sworn in during the board’s meeting Wednesday to replace Harrison, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, and Bell, who became mayor of Durham in 2001 and didn’t seek re-election this year.
The region’s principal municipalities and counties appoint 10 of GoTriangle’s 13 board members to staggered four-year terms. The North Carolina secretary of Transportation appoints three nonvoting members. By law, the Board of Trustees is authorized to make decisions and enact policy for the agency.
“It would be difficult to point to two people who have done more to expand the vision of transit in the Triangle,” said Jeff Mann, GoTriangle’s general manager. “Bill served on this board at its first meeting in 1990, and Ed served on a transit advisory commission in the early ’90s before he was appointed to the board in 2009. Their collective knowledge, passion, leadership and vision will be missed.”
Harrison, a South Carolina native and Chapel Hill Town Council member for 16 years, started riding transit as a 6-year-old when his family moved to New York City and lived without a car. There were no school buses, and Harrison took transit to school.
Since moving to North Carolina to get a degree in environmental management from Duke University, he has been a transit advocate, pushing in the 1980s for the establishment of the Triangle Transit Authority, the precursor to GoTriangle.
“We can’t build our way out of congestion,” Harrison said. “When I took a trip to DC 30 years ago, they were already hitting a wall. I became convinced at that point that roads are not the answer.”
Bell, who has a bachelor’s and a master’s in electrical engineering, stressed that a community has to have a vision for what it should look like in 15 to 30 years
“That’s when you’re building it for, not for today,” he said. “Transit is one of the key vehicles, pardon the expression, for growth and opportunity and some type of control of growth. Look at light rail. It provides an alternative mode of transportation, but it also becomes a planning device. It helps guide growth.”
In 1989, the North Carolina General Assembly created the Triangle Transit Authority as a regional public transportation authority serving Durham, Orange and Wake counties. Its Board of Trustees first met in January 1990 with Bell at the table. The TTA became GoTriangle in 2015.
Wake County’s population alone is now more than a million and growing by 67 people per day. Since 2011, Wake, Durham and Orange counties have approved half-cent sales taxes to invest in expanding transit options. More and better-connected bus service, a light-rail system between Durham and Chapel Hill, bus-rapid transit corridors and a commuter line between Garner and Durham are currently planned.
“We’ve come to accept certain quality of life in this area. It’s why people come here,” said Bell, also a former Durham County commissioner and board chairman. “We have estimates about our area experiencing a million in growth over the next 10 years. Transportation is one of those areas we need to be focused on. You’re going to kill the golden goose if you don’t take care of it.”
On the GoTriangle Board of Trustees, Parker and Schewel join Chairwoman Jennifer Robinson, appointed by the Town of Cary; Vice Chairwoman Ellen Reckhow, appointed by Durham County; Secretary Will Allen, appointed by the City of Raleigh; Mary-Ann Baldwin, appointed by the City of Raleigh; Sig Hutchinson, appointed by Wake County; Barry Jacobs, appointed by Orange County; Wendy Jacobs, appointed by Durham County; Vivian Jones, appointed by Wake County; and Valerie Jordan, Andrew M. Perkins Jr. and Nina Szlosberg-Landis, all ex officio members appointed by the NCDOT secretary.
Find more information about the agency’s board at bit.ly/goboard.