Published: Oct 20, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 20, 2012 06:58 PM
I appreciate the opportunity to express my concerns about the half-cent sales tax proposal that is on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Voters are being asked to approve only one of four revenue sources. Two separate vehicle registration fee increases, as well as a rental car tax increase will be decided by Triangle Transit and the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Voters only have a direct voice on the half-cent sales tax increase which directs most of its revenue stream to light rail. I mention this to alleviate fears that failure of the half-cent sales tax would mean less public transportation services. That simply is not true. In the funding plan, three other revenue sources are primarily dedicated to increased bus service in Orange County.
Before you vote I ask you to evaluate three areas of concern in the proposed plan: access, local and regional service, and transparency. Access:
Public transportation is a pressing need for many of our citizens. In order to address the needs of students, our growing elderly population, those with limited access to private transportation, our rural citizens who would use park-and-ride facilities, or the many citizens who prefer public transportation, we cannot afford to focus on a fixed light rail system with its limited reach in the extreme southeastern portion of the county. Once built, light rail, cannot be shifted to accommodate changing commuter and user patterns. The fact that the proposed route for light rail would only serve one of the six transit corridor focus areas chosen for potential new development in the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan speaks volumes. Public transit needs to move people where they want to go. Building a rail line largely in Durham County would not serve Orange Countys commercial centers. The proposed route fails to provide direct access for the residents of Carrboro, a logical western endpoint. The route also stops short of NCCU and Durham Tech, a logical eastern end of the proposed route. Local and Regional Service:
The proposed light rail system is a regional system in name only. A Chapel Hill to Durham light rail connection provides limited service on one leg of the Triangle Region and no service to other Triangle communities or the RDU Airport without multiple bus transfers where bus service already exists. Our current bus systems (Triangle Transit, Chapel Hill Transit, and Orange Public Transportation) need to be even more effective than they are now. We need to invest our transit funds to build a truly regional bus system reaching most of our population centers and our outlying communities. For a fraction of the cost of light rail, we can increase bus hours, reduce wait times, add new routes and expand bus service into other communities with growing commuter populations. These actions taken together will increase ridership and create a truly regional transportation system without placing an undue burden on the taxpaying public. Transparency:
The document titled The Bus and Rail Investment Plan in Orange County was written by Triangle Transit (a regional transportation authority) with limited input from Orange Countys elected officials and almost no input from the citizens of Orange County. Given our concern with transparency, public input, and process, why should we allow Triangle Transit to decide our transportation needs? The fact that most of the half-cent sales tax revenue is devoted to a light rail system that provides limited service seems contrary to my conviction that elected officials must spend public funds sensibly and efficiently.
The one piece of this plan that the citizens of Orange County have the ability to control is the passage or failure of the half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 6 ballot. Passage of this measure will bind you, your children, and possibly your grandchildren to a transportation plan with a limited light rail system as its crown jewel. Failure of this measure will allow the citizens of Orange County to take control of the discussion and align our transportation system with our needs.
I urge you to vote Against the half-cent sales tax increase Nov. 6.
Earl McKee serves on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.