Published: Nov 07, 2012 12:00 AM
Modified: Nov 06, 2012 10:57 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Orange County voters approved a half-cent sales tax Tuesday to help pay the local share of a $1.4 billion plan for better bus service and a light-rail route connecting Chapel Hill and Durham.
Voters supported the tax 58.8 percent support to 41.2 percent, according to final but unofficial results.
The sales tax equals 5 cents on a $10 purchase but won’t apply to gas, food, medicine, health care or housing costs.
David King, Triangle Transit general manager, said Orange County has taken “a positive step to fund expanded transit” and joined Durham County in moving forward with expanded bus service and a light rail connection.
Wake County has not finalized its part of the regional plan or its connections with Durham, and its commissioners decided against holding a sales tax referendum this year.
“By a substantial majority in both Durham and Orange counties, people have decided to invest local money to provide more transit options for our growing region,” King said.
The transit plan – and whether the county should raise the sales tax to support it – generated discussion countywide.
Supporters said the plan would help unclog roads, promote denser development and create economic opportunities. Opponents said the plan wrongly focuses most spending on a light-rail system and does little for rural residents, those with disabilities and the elderly.
Orange County Commissioners Chairwoman Bernadette Pelissier, who supported the sales tax referendum and the Orange-Durham bus and rail plan, said she was “absolutely ecstatic” about its passage Tuesday.
“It’s something that will make this county more business friendly,” she said.
While acknowledging the plan had its critics, over time, she predicted, “people will be happy about it.”
Orange and Durham counties each will pay for their share of the 17.3-mile light-rail line, and split the cost of other services.
Orange County will pay 25 percent of its $661.1 million cost with sales tax revenues, a $7 local vehicle registration fee, an extra $3 regional registration fee and a portion of Triangle Transit’s rental car fees. TT already collects a $5 vehicle registration fees. The state and federal governments will pay the rest.
The plan will help bring several changes, including more Chapel Hill Transit, Triangle Transit and Hillsborough circulator bus hours and routes, a Mebane-Hillsborough-Durham express bus and a long-planned Hillsborough Amtrak station.
It also will fund a bus-rapid transit system on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, from Interstate 40 to UNC Hospitals.