Published: Oct 27, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 26, 2012 04:55 PM
If we build it, they will come.
But if we don’t build it, they will come anyway. They will come and put increasing development pressure on our rural areas, clog up the roads, consume ever more oil, pump ever more exhaust into the air, and make your drive home even longer and more frustrating than it already is.
Most of the talk about the transit plan that will ask Orange County voters to approve a half-cent sales tax on Nov. 6 has focused on the light rail element, but that is just one part of a much more expansive plan. It may be helpful to think of the proposal not so much as a transit plan, but as a growth plan.
And we need that, because the growth is coming. As of the last Census, the Triangle was the second-fastest growing region in the nation, and that level of growth is expected to continue. While much of that population boom is expected to take place in Wake County, Orange County and neighboring Durham County are going to continue to grow rapidly as well.
The question is how we are going to manage that growth and still retain the qualities that make it a pleasure to live here. The transit plan is one aspect – an important one, but far from the only one – of the answer.
The system would put a 17-mile light rail line, with 17 stops, running between Chapel Hill and Durham, and would significantly expand bus service: more routes, more stops, more hours, a rapid transit line up and down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and a regional bus line connecting Mebane, Hillsborough and Durham. An Amtrak station in Hillsborough is in the works, as well.
It is expected that the light rail line will spur economic development and concentrate residential and commercial projects along its corridor.
A half-cent sales tax to help pay for the transit plan will be on the Orange County ballot in November. That’s a nickel for each $10 in purchases – and it doesn’t apply to necessities such as groceries, prescription medicines or gas.
Rational people can and do disagree on this issue. It is an enormous expenditure, and opponents raise a number of objections. The plan costs too much, they say, and it doesn’t provide enough for rural residents and is misguided in its reliance on light rail. What if it costs more than we think? What if we build light rail and nobody uses it?
Reasonable concerns all. Is the plan perfect? No. But it’s good, and if we are wise and forward-looking, we will prepare strategically for the future and the growth it will bring. This plan offers the opportunity to do that.
Continuing to do things the way we do now – using 2,000 pounds of metal, plastic, gasoline and oil to move one person at a time – is a losing proposition in the long run, and, ultimately, the far more expensive one. We can talk forever about designing the perfect system and never actually do anything, or we can take the bold step of initiating a new, progressive and adaptable system for getting where we need to go. We encourage you to vote for the half-cent sales tax, the transit plan and a more efficient future.
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