Published: Nov 13, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 13, 2012 04:04 PM
CHAPEL HILL - The morning after voters approved a half-cent sales tax for bus and light rail, area officials were already talking about how to put the plans into motion.
It will be up to the Orange County commissioners to ask Triangle Transit to start collecting the sales tax (5 cents on most $10 purchases) as well a $7 local registration fee and TTs additional $3 fee. The regional transit agency already collects a $5 vehicle registration fee.
Triangle Transit then will talk with the N.C. Department of Revenue. The whole process could take until April or May, TT legal counsel Wib Gulley said.
Voters approved the sales tax 58.8 percent to 41.2 percent last week a margin of 12,552 votes largely because of support in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough.
Gulley said it didnt surprise him how the vote played out. Urban voters generally feel the immediacy of the problems and see how they will benefit from the plan, he said. Rural voters may not have seen how the transit plan will help everyone, he said.
The tax, fees, fares, $19.2 million in debt and a percentage of TTs regional car rental fees will cover roughly 25 percent Orange Countys $661.1 million transit bill. State and federal money will be used to pay the rest, and Durham will be responsible for its share of the total $1.4 billion regional bus and light-rail transit plan.
The light-rail portion will consume 75 percent of the countys new transit-related revenues over the next 15 years as the 17.3-mile rail line is built from UNC Hospitals to downtown Durham and Alston Avenue.
For now, TT and county leaders will map out their immediate plans, Gulley said. Former Chapel Hill Transit director Steve Spade, who left Oct. 26 for a job in Kansas, said that will include talking with the community about its biggest needs. Gulley said it also will take a while to get the necessary buses, because the demand is up nationwide and there is a backlog of almost a year.
Were both excited and feeling a bit overwhelmed, he said.
By next year, TT, Orange County and the Durham-Carrboro-Chapel Hill Metropolitan Planning Organization will have to appoint two members each to a staff working group. The groups first report will be due next fall, and it could complete a full review of the plans progress by 2016 or sooner, Gulley said. An eight-year review will determine whether the money is in hand for building the light-rail line, he said.
If the state or federal money falls through, the group could revise the plan. Some options include delaying the light-rail system while seeking additional money or scrapping the light rail in favor of more buses and bus-rapid transit lines, officials said.
The current plan might not be the last one either. Once other parts of Orange County grow dense enough to support transit services, local and regional leaders could turn their attention to Carrboro, the future Carolina North campus, Cary and potentially Chatham County.
Orange County Commissioners Chairwoman Bernadette Pelissier acknowledged the plan has its critics, but she also thinks that people will be happy about it over time, she said.
It also will make the county more attractive to new and existing businesses, she said.