For several weeks, it had been apparent to transportation activists that the Triangle Transit Authority's commuter rail project was in trouble. Members of Transportation Reform is Possible (TRIP), a Triangle-based citizens' group that was recently formed to lobby for better transit and other transportation options, knew that something had to be done to rally public support for the project.
As The Independent's Feb. 23 cover story explained, the rail project is being stalled by complications caused by the plan to run commuter rail in the same right-of-way as freight trains and Amtrak's intercity passenger service. Neither the N.C. Department of Transportation (which runs the Amtrak service) nor CSX Transportation (which owns the tracks used by freight service) have made accommodating TTA's plans a priority. As a result, the federal government might pull its support for the project, keeping Triangle commuters without alternatives to the daily grind on I-40.
The leaders of TRIP decided to create political pressure by going straight to the top--to Gov. Jim Hunt, who controls the DOT and could use his influence with CSX as well. The plan: Update the group's Web site to allow visitors to send an e-mail message to Gov. Hunt asking for his help in getting the TTA project back on track. The Web site update would coincide with a story in the Sunday News & Observer describing the situation. The newspaper would even list the Web address in a sidebar under the heading, "To Learn More."
What could go wrong? For one thing, Gov. Hunt doesn't have an e-mail address. A receptionist at his office explained that many staff members handle different issues for the governor. No one is assigned to check and distribute e-mails to the staff, so they simply don't publish an e-mail address for the governor. (Could it be that Hunt doesn't want to receive a barrage of e-mails of the kind that TRIP intended to unleash?)
Instead, the TRIP Web site allows visitors to send a message to David King, deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation. (The Secretary of Transportation doesn't publish his e-mail address, either.) The Web site makes a copy of all the messages sent, and these will be printed and delivered to Gov. Hunt in person.
To add your message in support of TTA, visit the site at http://triangletrip.org.