Love it, do it all.
One peeve though: I really hate it when American transit/planning agencies slap the “BRT” label on projects that primarily operate in mixed traffic. I’m afraid that I-40 BRT route is going to be exactly that (unless they’re planning to do something like the Orange Line in Minneapolis, but that’s going to take a lot of cooperation from NCDOT, which is hard to come by). If you’re going to do some kind of high-frequency bus service with enhanced stations and some signal priority here and there, but little to no dedicated lanes, I prefer Yonah Freemark’s term “Arterial Rapid Transit.” I know I’m splitting hairs a bit here, but I think it’s important to make these distinctions so that we don’t water down the core concept of BRT here in the States.
But yeah, do it. Chapel Hill already does pretty well for ridership thanks to UNC and a decade plus of free service. Better, more frequent buses would continue to build on a solid foundation.
I think this is the main reason that Durham is the current outlier for commuter rail. They’ve been shafted before, and they’re afraid of being shafted again. I’ve seen a lot of people arguing on the Bird Site that whatever funding hasn’t been burned on DOLRT should be dedicated to helping people move within Durham, not out of Durham. “Fix our buses, then we’ll talk about commuter rail.”
Which I get, but it seems to me that Durham has much better bus service than Raleigh currently. Plus, and I hate to put it this way, but Americans like rail projects. From what I’ve gathered, most American cities that have managed to get folks above the poverty line onto buses were able to do so because of a corresponding rail project (this is speculation, so don’t ask for a source). I know it’s selfish, but I’m thinking long game here. You need to get the general population to see public transit as more than just a welfare program. You need to get people who can afford cars to voluntarily leave them at home. Once that perception shifts, demand shifts. When demand shifts, you’ll find bus upgrades come much more easily. And it’s not like they won’t simultaneously get bus upgrades; there just won’t be as many during the commuter rail build-out.
We need to think more as a region. A bit of friendly rivalry never hurt anybody, and I think the distinctions between Raleigh and Durham ultimately help the region as a whole, but we’re not competing against each other so much as we’re competing against other regions (Charlotte, Nashville, Austin). The fact that we have two growing cities in the same region is an asset, but that growth will be stunted if we don’t do a better job of connecting the two. The prospect of having to get on I-40 feels like a barrier between the two cities. I’d go to Durham way more often if I could just walk to a train station at any time of day. Both cities win with a better connection.
Edit: if y’all think I’m off base on that last bit, please let me know and tell me why. I’d love to hear a solid argument for why Durham should put bus service before rail service.