Published: Oct 23, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 23, 2012 06:48 PM
Theres a half-cent sales tax referendum on Novembers ballot. It will be used to fund a 25-year, $660 million plan for light rail and other transit in Orange County. Separately, the commissioners and Triangle Transit (TT) will add $10 to the annual vehicle registration fees. If the tax passes and the fees are added, sales taxes increase from 7 to 7.5 percent; vehicle fees increase from $33 to $43 per year.
A vote for the tax authorizes the county commissioners to levy the tax, and TT to proceed with the plans as written. A vote against the tax indicates that a better plan is needed. If voters oppose the tax, a new referendum can be brought forward on a later ballot.
TTs plan was originally developed for the Triangle region, but Wake County and RTP (the major population, commuter and congestion centers) are not participating. Durham supports the plan which provides light rail through their downtown and targeted development areas. Orange Countys plan completes Durhams rail line but ignores changing demographics, accelerating growth in Chatham and Mebane, and emerging transit corridors along 15-501, Carolina North, and in the county.
Im voting against the tax because I believe we need a better plan one that provides flexible and reliable transit system that fits the areas changing density and commuter priorities, and motivates citizens to leave our cars at home. Whats in the plan
Four miles of light rail consumes 70 percent of Orange Countys $660 million transit budget. The remaining funds provide bus rapid transit, (BRT), park and rides, and a small increase in bus service.
The plan covers new service only. The sales tax cannot be used for existing bus service from CHT, TT or Orange Public Transit. In response to recent pressure from Chapel Hill, most of the total $22 million vehicle fee could go toward CHTs current operations (no expansion). TT has not announced what services would be cut to accommodate this change or how it would impact the matching grant fund.
The plan includes:
• A fixed 4 mile light rail segment from UNC Hospitals along N.C. 54 East to Duke University Medical Center and Alston Avenue in Durham. The entire Durham/Orange line is 17 miles and will cost $1.4 billion. The 4-mile Chapel Hill portion is $477 million. Rail service would begin in 2026.
• A 2.5 mile BRT segment along MLK Boulevard from I-40 to Estes Drive at a cost of $24.5 million. Annual operating expenses are not included in the plan.
• An increase of 34,000 bus hours over five years, or 7,000 hours per year; 6,000 hours more in years 6-20). Added to a base of 200,000 hours per year, thats a 3 to 4 percent annual increase. The additional hours will help create weekend service and keep the buses running when UNC is on recess. A part-time, express bus to Mebane will be added. The bus funding ($131 million over 22 years or less than 20 percent) includes costs to build park and ride lots and transport to the train station.
• An Amtrak train station in Hillsborough ($8.9 million) thats not connected to any other service features in the plan
The new tax does not provide service to or from Chapel Hill to RTP, RDU airport or Raleigh. If Wake adopted the plan, commuter rail to Durham would be added using existing infrastructure. There is no plan for rail or bus service between Wake and Orange County. Plan management
The plan for Orange County is estimated to cost $660 million through 2035. The sales tax, vehicle fees and the new rental car tax funds about one-quarter of the plan. Federal grants provide half of the funds; state grants provide another quarter
TT manages the plan. Orange County, TT and the Durham/Chapel Hill Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) must unanimously approve material changes to the plan or its funding. This includes revenue changes or cost overruns, or changes required if grants are not approved. UNC and CHT have no authority.
A vote against the transit tax is the start of a meaningful transit plan for Orange County.
Bonnie Hauser lives in Orange County.