Published: May 12, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: May 11, 2012 05:06 PM
Orange County this week turns its attention from one referendum to another, very different, one.
Last week voters here turned out in large numbers to vote against the statewide Amendment One referendum declaring invalid all domestic unions except heterosexual marriage. Although voters here were overwhelmingly against the amendment, our fellow North Carolinians approved it by a wide margin.
That result was sadly predictable, which made it no less depressing. But the struggle goes on, and the tide of history is running strongly against the side that won this particular battle. It may fall to our children, who have far more sense than their elders on this issue, to clean up this generation’s mess.
Meanwhile, the Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday are scheduled to discuss that other referendum. Among the questions before them is whether to place a half-cent sales tax for an ambitious transit plan on the November ballot for our approval.
The plan would, in the near term, dramatically expand bus service in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and the rest of Orange County. In the longer run, it would add a light rail system running from Chapel Hill to Durham, with numerous stops along the way.
That light rail line would be part of a wider system linking points in Raleigh, Cary and throughout the Triangle.
Nobody’s crazy about new taxes, but this is very much a situation that calls for the long view.
The Triangle region, now home to some 1.5 million people, is projected to grow by another million in less than 25 years. Some 40,000 of those newcomers, and 29,000 new jobs, are expected to wind up in Orange County.
And you think traffic is bad now.
Given that kind of growth, we simply cannot continue to rely on automobiles to get everybody where they need to go. The cost to the environment, the quality of life, our bank accounts and our energy independence would be far too steep.
We have to be smarter than that.
A well designed transit plan will spark economic development, provide jobs, help preserve the environment, concentrate growth around transportation corridors and make getting around much less stressful and expensive.
Now is the time to begin. Durham voters have already approved the transit tax, contingent upon Orange and Wake counties doing the same. The money levied would leverage a substantial amount of state and federal dollars, and that pot of money isn’t going to be available forever.
One caveat we would like to make, prompted by our series of stories about the existing public transportation service and residents with disabilities or mobility challenges: The transit planners need to incorporate that population into their thinking.
One of the needs the Triangle Regional Transit Program lists is to “serve populations with high propensity for transit use.”
That would certainly include people with limited mobility. Many such residents say the existing transportation serves them poorly, and budget cuts have only made things worse. For these people, a train station or bus stop is only useful if they can get to it.
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