CHAPEL HILL - Orange County commissioners will decide this week whether to ask county tax payers to help fund a regional transit plan that would add bus lines throughout the county and connect Chapel Hill to Durham with a light rail line.
Commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to put a half cent sales tax referendum on the ballot in November. Durham County passed a half cent sales tax increase last year, though it won’t be enacted unless Orange County also approves one. Wake County has not yet put a referendum on the ballot.
Tuesday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Department of Social Services, Hillsborough Commons, 113 Mayo St. in Hillsborough. WHAT’S PROPOSED More bus service
• 40,950 more bus hours in Orange County
• New park and ride lots, bus shelters, park and ride lots in urban and rural parts of the county. Real-time passenger information signs and sidewalks at bus stops
• Hillsborough Amtrak station, new station on 20 acres owned by the town of Hillsborough off of Orange Grove Street. Plan includes space for municipal meetings, police and fire station and a civic arts center.
• New Bus Rapid Transit service, which are buses that use their own lanes that stop less frequently and are faster than traditional bus lines
• New regional bus routes would include a Mebane- Hillsborough- Durham Express route service, a Carrboro-Chapel Hill-Durham route on Sundays, and a Chapel Hill Regional Transit center through Southpoint in Durham on Sundays
• New Chapel Hill Transit routes would include a Chapel Hill-Carrboro-UNC weekend service New light rail service
• 17.3 mile light rail train (typically one or two subway-like cars powered by an overhead line) connecting UNC Hospitals to Alston Avenue, N.C. Central University in Durham
• 17 stops including Mason Farm Road, Hamilton Road, the UNC Friday Center, and potential station at Woodmont/Hillmont or Meadowmont in Chapel Hill. Stops in Durham include Duke Medical Center, Ninth Street, and downtown Durham
• Total travel time for entire line is 35 minutes, including stops. Trains would come every 10 minutes during morning and evening peak hours and every 20 minutes in off-hoursWHAT IT COSTS Bus service
• Total cost of the bus service is $106 million
• Orange County would pay $22 million for bus lanes, assuming 25 percent of the funding will come from the state and 50 percent come from the federal government.
• Bus replacement and maintenance would cost $17 million and amenities and transit center operational costs would be $6 million through 2035 Light rail
• Total light rail cost is $1.38 billion. Orange County would pay $316.2 million in 2011 dollars. Total operations and maintenance costs are $14.44 million a year, Orange County would pay $3.46 million a year. Orange County would pay 25 percent of all costs, the state would pay 25 percent and federal government would pay 50 percent, according to Triangle Transit.
• Cost estimates are based on multiple conservative assumptions, including assumptions on Orange County revenue sources. To fund the plan, money would be needed from a half-cent sales tax, a new $7 vehicle registration fee levied by the county, a $3 increase in the current vehicle registration fee, revenue from Triangle Transit’s rental car tax. Hillsborough train station
• Total project is $8.9 million through 2035, 80 percent of that cost would be paid by the federal government, 10 percent by Orange County and 10 percent by the stateHOW MUCH IS A HALF-CENT SALES TAX?
If the tax passes, Orange County’s sales tax rate would increase from 7 percent to 7.5 percent or 7.5 cents on a $1 purchase.
It would add 5 cents to a $10 purchase and would exclude food, gasoline, medicine, healthcare and housing. Triangle Transit estimates that the tax would generate $163 million through 2035. HOW MUCH WOULD THE TAXES AND FEES GENERATE YEARLY?
• Half-cent tax: $5 million
• $7 vehicle registration fee: $788,000
• $3 vehicle registration fee: $338,000
Triangle Transit also assumes a growth rate of 4.6 percent in tax revenue from 2011 through 2035 for the half-cent tax if it passes.
Craig Benedict, the county’s planning and inspections director, showed commissioners a graph of declining sales tax revenue for the county last week. Revenue dropped from $22 million in 2008 to $15 million in 2009 and has declined further since then.
Triangle Transit’s financial model assumes revenues will be flat for the next few years, then start to pick up, Benedict said. If they don’t, there may not be enough sales tax to fully fund the project, even if a half-cent tax passes.