Published: Nov 10, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 09, 2012 04:43 PM
We’re pleased and proud that the majority of voters in Orange County chose a forward-thinking and progressive path last Tuesday (and during the preceding weeks of early voting) by approving a half-cent sales tax to fund expanded bus service and eventually a light rail line running between Chapel Hill and Durham.
The transit referendum passed by a 59 to 41 percent margin. The bulk of the support, not surprisingly, came from the most densely populated parts of the county: Chapel Hill-Carrboro, where the western terminus of the light rail line is proposed and a bus rapid-transit system would run along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; and Hillsborough, where a new express bus route will stop between Mebane and Durham and a new Amtrak station will provide the opportunity to catch a train south toward Charlotte or north toward Washington, D.C.
A great many things still have to happen before all the parts of the plan become reality. But last week’s vote represents a significant and overdue step toward a vastly more efficient and rational way of life.
It’s hard to imagine a less effective or more expensive way to move large numbers of people than the single-passenger gasoline-powered automobile, and that will become only more evident over the coming decades as our population increases and natural resources decrease.
The transit tax referendum helps us move beyond that increasingly outmoded model and toward one that will help concentrate density, preserve rural areas, protect the environment, encourage economic development and protect the quality of the life that makes this such a popular place to live.
Critics of the transit plan complained that it commits Orange County residents to a hefty price tag for a light rail line that is almost entirely in Durham County; only the westmost leg reaches into Orange.
But our lives don’t begin and end at the county line, and neither should our transportation systems. A great many people live in Orange but work in Durham, and vice versa; hence the traffic backups on 54 and 15-501 that serve as the most immediately apparent justifications for the transit plan. Regional challenges require us to partner with our neighbors to craft regional solutions.
Contrary to the claim that the proposed system ignores rural residents, the plan does in fact serve those folks, with increased bus service and new park-and-ride lots. The argument that we shouldn’t build a transit system unless it reaches into every lonely corner and crossroads of the county is really an argument for doing nothing; what rational system would focus its routes where the fewest people live?
The transit system will only work, of course, if people use it. That will require changing some deeply rooted habits.
Some doubt our ability to do that. Are we so wedded to our cars that we won’t ever change our ways and accept an alternative means of getting around?
Maybe. But one thing is certain: we will never choose an alternative if we don’t make one available to choose.
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