Published: Oct 20, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 20, 2012 06:58 PM
Our region is the third most sprawling area in the country and is growing rapidly. We have a transit plan which will greatly increase mobility choices.
It will provide needed weekend and evening expansion of existing bus service. New bus service will include Mebane/Efland. Bus rapid transit on MLK will accommodate Carolina North by providing efficient transit on this corridor.
A train station in Hillsborough will connect Orange County residents with Charlotte or Washington, D.C. It will provide a stop for commuters who now have to go out of the county.
A 17.3 mile light rail system will operate in a dedicated right of way with 17 stops to provide frequent and efficient services between Orange and Durham counties. It will connect two major universities and hospitals, a type of connection deemed important nationwide.
Why do all citizens, urban and rural, need to invest in this multi-modal transportation plan by supporting the half-cent sales tax for transit?
• First, economic development, which accompanies increased public transit choices, benefits all of us. It will diversify our tax base thereby reducing pressure on residential property taxes. Economic development experts, without fail, report that transit infrastructure is vital for a positive business climate.
Stakeholders involved in developing an economic development strategy for this region know this. They have identified investment in a comprehensive multi-modal transportation infrastructure as a game-changer. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce knows that business will thrive with transportation choices. Its board of directors unanimously voted to support the sales tax for transit. There are some obvious economic benefits. The proposed Hillsborough train station is located on 20 acres owned by the town where there are already mixed-use plans.
• Second, this transit investment addresses our community value of social equity. Transit will make Orange County more affordable. The annual cost of transit is five to seven times lower than the cost to maintain and operate a vehicle for work purposes. It will also enhance quality of life. The younger generation wants to live in urban areas with transit choices. It will mitigate the negative impacts of sprawl by taking cars off the road. The average annual delay per driver increased from eight hours in 1982 to 35 hours in 2005.
• Lastly, investment in transit will improve the health of all citizens, those who use transit and those who do not, by reducing air pollution. We have too many code red days each summer alerting us to poor air quality. It will encourage sustainable land use in urban areas and thereby decrease pressures to develop farmland and environmentally sensitive areas.
Some feel that the plan is not perfect. Some say we only need buses. We already have buses that are not on time because of traffic congestion. Some say we will still have congestion. The transit plan is not meant to solve all our congestion problems. Some feel that we do not need light rail between Orange County and Durham County. Yet, the majority of Orange County citizens who leave Orange County for work go to Durham County and vice-versa. Some feel that light rail costs too much. What about the cost of new roads? How can buses operate efficiently within congested roadways?
Our transit plan reflects regional collaboration which began in 2007 with the Special Transit Advisory Committee. The community investment of a half-cent sales tax is how we can leverage federal and state dollars. I do not want to leverage these monies by increasing property taxes.
I urge all of you to Flip for Transit. Turn over your ballot and vote yes for the half-cent sales tax. Lets get moving!!
Bernadette Pelissier serves on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.