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Iconic Raleigh

Beam us to Durham, Scotty

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What a strange sight we encountered in Raleigh on Saturday night. It was a traffic jam--I kid you not--at the corner of West Davie and South Harrington streets.

There were four stretch limousines implicated. I counted them as I watched from the patio at Humble Pie. The traffic was headed, beautiful young people in tow, for the hot, new nightclubs that suddenly dot the downtown Depot District. Depot District? Yes, that's what the city's been calling it, as it's located in between the existing Amtrak station and the planned West Side station for the TTA's trains.

So you see where I'm going with this. Just as downtown Raleigh's finally showing some signs of life, and Durham too, the TTA has been forced to pull the plug--temporarily, we trust--on its intercity commuter railroad project. The reasons why were well-covered over the weekend by Yonah Freemark, a Yale undergraduate from Durham, on a transit blog called "Live From the Third Rail." If I may summarize for him here, they are: 1) No local leadership; 2) No help from Liddy Dole or Richard Burr, our two U.S. senators; 3) No help from the transit-unfriendly Bush administration; and 4) No local leadership.

(I've put a link to Freemark's post on our Citizen blog.)

Here's my question: Is it still the Depot District without the TTA depot? And my next question: Is it still a region if the only way to get from one point on the Triangle to either of the other two points is on car-choked I-40? And my final question: Why are we so consumed with Plensa Plaza, and so blasé about the TTA?

We keep pawing over artist Jaume Plensa's design for Fayetteville Street, as if shining a light toward the heavens will somehow be the "iconic" evidence of Raleigh's visionary wonderfulness. What I think would be iconic of some vision is a transit system that reels in the region's sprawl, connects our various centers, and anchors a new era of sustainable, metropolitan growth in the Raleigh-to-Cary-to-Durham (and eventually to Chapel Hill) corridor.

Or perhaps we should start thinking of it as our High Achievement corridor that goes from downtown Raleigh (Peace College, Shaw and St. Aug's) to NCSU to Meredith to NCCU to Duke to UNC. Which is where the TTA rail line will go, when we build it. Which we will, when the Bushies are just a bad memory.

Let's brand that.

And let's put our public art in the HA! Corridor at every station. Now that would make a statement.

Meeker to Dole to Szlosberg

And speaking of our local leaders and Sen. Dole, suddenly the word is out that Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker is iffy about running for a fourth term in '07 and is meanwhile mulling a run for higher office in '08. What higher office? U.S. Senate, is what I'm told by numerous Democratic sources, who do not--I should add--include Meeker himself.

Who will run for mayor if Charles does not? Republican contenders could include City Councilor Philip Isley, who's taken to paying his constituents' parking tickets (a page from the Meeker playbook) and whipping up sentiment against the TTA. (Isley wonders why there's no transit planned for Brier Creek? It's because BC's the epitome of sprawl, Philip. A bus trying to pick up passengers there might never be seen again.)

On the other hand, Isley's shown his practical, pro-downtown side by voting for all the big-ticket projects (F-Street, the convention center, the Contemporary Art Museum) that the real-red conservatives despise. Besides which, he says he's not running.

Also not running, on the Democratic side, is Nina Szlosberg, who is president of the Conservation Council of N.C. and is Gov. Easley's officially designated environmentalist on the state Board of Transportation. Szlosberg's hosted many a fundraiser for Democrats in her University Park home, including one this week for Congressman Brad Miller, and no question she is the progressives' first choice to succeed Meeker should he decide three mayoral terms is enough.

She is also, it's worth noting, a member of the TTA board and a proponent of the rail project--unlike Meeker, who's rarely mentioned the subject in his four-plus years to date.

Szlosberg says she's considering running, but only if Meeker doesn't. If he does, she'll be with him once again. And Meeker says he won't make up his mind for a few months.

Would Meeker have a chance against Dole? At first blush, you might not think so, given Liddy's star power and Meeker's lack thereof. Since winning her senate seat in 2002, however, Dole's put her energies into national Republican politics, including as the current head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, while neglecting--the critics say--her duties to North Carolina. Not to mention she hasn't lived here in 40 years.

Meeker, meanwhile, is the pro-business mayor of the booming state capital city and a determined centrist popular with moderates of both parties.

If, by 2008, North Carolina is ready to return to its old tradition of one Republican and one Democratic senator, Dole could be vulnerable, and the squeaky clean Meeker a very viable alternative.

For more on Meeker-Dole and Szlosberg's link to the late Isabella Cannon, Raleigh's only woman mayor, visit our blog at www.indyweekblogs.com/citizen. And if you've got a better idea than the HA! Corridor--how hard can that be to beat?--send it to rjgeary@mac.com.

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