Published: Oct 27, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 27, 2012 04:13 PM
CHAPEL HILL - A contract signed this fall – the Interlocal Implementation Agreement – lays out the roles and responsibilities for building the Orange County part of the regional bus and rail system.
While Triangle Transit will manage the regional plan, it will share responsibility with the Orange County commissioners and the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization for deciding how the Orange County portion of the plan could be changed or revised. Big changes will take a unanimous vote; smaller changes will be handled by the county, DCHC-MPO and Triangle Transit managers.
Each partner will have two representatives, who will review the Orange County plan’s progress every four years and adjust it to reflect changing circumstances. After eight years, the group will revise the transit plan if state or federal funding isn’t available for the light-rail system. Light-rail construction tentatively could start in 2020 with a launch date in 2026.Sharing revenue
The contract also spells out how each transit agency – Triangle Transit, Chapel Hill Transit and Orange Public Transportation – will share available revenue.
Each must use its existing resources to maintain the same level of funding that paid for local services in August 2009 and file an annual report explaining its services, ridership and spending. Triangle Transit must submit an annual regional report Nov. 1.
However, a last-minute change gives local agencies flexibility in extreme circumstances, such as a sudden increase in fuel costs or if UNC reduced its support for some CHT routes.
The change allows an agency to ask the group to use new tax and fee revenues to cover existing services. How much would depend on the agency’s percentage of local expenses and the previous year’s vehicle fee revenues.
In 2016, for example, the $7 increase in local vehicle registration fees could generate roughly $800,000. CHT’s share of that year’s expenses would be roughly 92 percent – its expenses divided by the sum of those expenses and OPT’s expenses. That means CHT could request up to $736,000 to support existing services.
The change in the plan appears to contradict state legislation that allowed Triangle governments to seek the sales tax and vehicle registration fee increase. That legislation states local transit agencies must continue current funding and use the new money only for added services.
Gulley said the plan does not violate the state’s rule against supplanting – or replacing – current funding, because the agencies can’t pay less than they did in 2009. But it’s better to limit new services in hard times rather than cut an agency’s core services, he said.
Orange County Commissioner Steve Yuhasz disagrees and said the change removes a lot of protections for Orange County residents. It will divert funding from regional transportation to local systems, primarily Chapel Hill Transit, he said.
“We don’t know enough about what the cost will be long-term,” Yuhasz said. “I don’t see any assurances that state and federal will come through with the funding required for the plan.”