For years, local policymakers have been trying to create opportunities for people who live in Orange County to work in Orange County – and for people who work in Orange County to live here too.
But every day, thousands of Orange County residents get in their cars and drive to work somewhere else – and thousands of people who live somewhere else get in their cars and drive to work here.
“40,000 people drive into Orange County every morning, 37,800 people drive out of Orange County every morning – and (only) 19,000 folks wake up and work in Orange County,” says Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson.
And he adds that the number of people both living and working in Orange County has been trending downward for more than a decade. “45 percent of (Orange County residents) in 2002 lived here and worked here,” he says. “That’s down now to 34 percent.”
Among other things, Nelson says, this poses a challenge for our transit plan.
“We’ve designed an entire transit system to move people within our community,” he says. “If we’re more regionally employed, what is that going to mean for our transportation solutions?”
And while we often assume that people who commute into Orange County do so because they can’t afford to live here, Nelson says that may actually not be the case.
“We (think) we’re exporting high-wage white-collar workers and importing unskilled, semi-skilled work – but it’s not true,” he says. “19,000 people drive out for a job that pays $40,000 or more – and 19,500 people drive in for a job that pays $40,000 or more. We have 6,800 people driving out for a job that pays less than $15,000 – and we have almost the exact same number of people driving in (for similar-paying jobs).
“When we look at these as percentages, they’re really – shockingly – the same.”
What that means, Nelson says, is that addressing this issue may not be simply a matter of building more low-cost housing – it might also be about making connections.
“We must better connect local workers with local work opportunity, and that will dramatically change our in- and out-commute,” he says. “If we can specifically try to employ folks that live in our market, that will have great positive change – for the environment, for the lack of civic participation that happens when we commute, and the roads that we have to build and the transit system.”
And Nelson says it’s especially important to start making those connections now – because this trend, fewer and fewer people living and working in Orange County, is especially pronounced among residents under 30.
“There are 600 fewer young people – 15 percent fewer young people – living and working in our community over a two-year period,” he says. “That’s a trend I do not like.”
Nelson made those comments last month while delivering his annual State of the Community report.
The light rail project connecting Chapel Hill and Durham has cleared a major hurdle.
Natalie Murdock is the spokesperson on the project for GoTriangle. She says the Federal Transit Administration signed off on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement last Thursday.
“Essentially, this allows us to go forward and show the public everything that we’ve been working on at a very intense pace,” she says, “taking a four-year process and really trying to whittle that down into two years.”
Murdock says this draft statement focused on potential environmental impacts along the pathway from Chapel Hill to Durham.
“Throughout those 17 miles, we did have a number of environmentally-sensitive areas,” she says. “In this document, you will see our recommendation as to how we can offset some of those environmental impacts.
“And also ways that we can try to avoid impacts to communities and institutions.”
Murdock adds work has narrowed down on the potential path of the tracks.
The funding for the project is coming from local, state, and federal funds. Murdock says that will follow a 25-25-50 format, with 25 percent from the local level through a sales tax increase already approved by Orange and Durham County voters, 25 percent from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and 50 percent to come from the federal government.
A public comment period will open for 45 days after the formal FTA approval, which is expected on Friday.
Murdock says that will set off the next chain of events on the timeline.
“That final document will be finalized around February 2016,” she says. The final environmental-impact document approval will lead to additional authorization being sought from the FTA regarding engineering. “At that time, if the federal government allows us to proceed with the engineering, then in 2019 we will pursue 50 percent funding from the federal government and begin construction in 2019.”
The public comment period will include two public information sessions and two public hearings. The Friday Center will host an information session on September 15 and a public hearing on September 29.
“We need to hear from the public how they think the project will help their community,” Murdock says, “what concerns they have about how it will impact their community; if they think it will impact their access to work; if it will impact the access that customers will have to a business owner’s business.
“Those are the types of comments that we do need to hear from the public.”
The light-rail line connecting Durham and Chapel Hill is still more than a decade away from becoming a reality – but planners are already hammering out the details about the specific path that line will trace, and they’re hoping to have some of those questions answered this spring.
With that in mind, about 10 elected officials and other municipal staff – including Carrboro mayor Lydia Lavelle – went on a bus tour earlier this week to trace the proposed line for themselves.
Mayor Lavelle spoke to WCHL’s Aaron Keck about the tour and the proposal on Friday.
Planners are seeking public opinion now about the proposed line – trying to balance the needs of commuters, businesses and residents with a larger concern for protecting environmentally sensitive areas. When it’s completed, the light-rail line will connect Chapel Hill and the UNC campus with Duke University and downtown Durham.
To learn more about the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project and to offer your feedback and input, visit OurTransitFuture.com.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/lavelle-other-electeds-tour-future-light-rail-line/
The Board of Alderman is setting up for a very busy 2015 with their first meeting of the new year, on Tuesday night. There are several large agenda items for leaders of the Town of Carrboro.
Mayor Lydia Lavelle says she is expecting to see new developments concerning the Martin Luther King Jr. Park Master Plan.
“I do think citizens that are interested in the Martin Luther King Jr. Park will be interested in seeing what kinds of proposals are being made,” she says. “A couple of concept designs are going to be coming forward to us, after some community gatherings where we received a lot of input.”
The board will also be presented with information regarding the state of the transit system and suggestions to increase sustainability going forward.
“Every year [the transit system] is a huge project to grapple our hands around,” she says. “It’s one of the hallmarks of our community, but it is one that continues to increase in costs.”
The presentation is expected to be very similar to the arrangement brought before the Chapel Hill Town Council, last week.
The transit system is a large budget item, according to Mayor Lavelle, but she says there are several other key areas in building a new budget this year.
She says certain town costs are guaranteed to increase.
“We always have rising health care costs,” she says. “It’s always a given that, whatever our line item is for our employees and health care, that’s always going to go up a little.”
Lavelle says it will be important to see how much revenue the town is able to bring in during tax collection.
“In general, property taxes have stayed the same or gotten better,” she says. “With the hotel and different things, our commercial tax base should look pretty good.”
The mayor adds town leaders typically offer a conservative sales tax estimate, which could lead to additional revenue on top of projections.
The Board of Alderman meeting will be held at the Carrboro Town Hall beginning at 7:30 Tuesday evening and is open to the public.
Thursday night, the Chapel Hill Town Council discussed the proposed Obey Creek development’s effect on traffic and transit. The council also discussed plans for walkways and bike paths in and around the development.
Craig Scheffler, transportation engineer for the HNTB Corporation, presented the effects of the increased ridership on each bus line in the area. He pointed out the buses that would be over capacity during peak hours.
During the public comment period, resident Jeanne Brown expressed concerns about the traffic and transit analysis. She said this about the transit report prepared for the meeting:
“It really missed the mark to a conversation that’s very important to this town and to that particular development.”
Brown said the report should look more into bus capacity, weekend and night bus service, and other factors.
Brian Litchfield, director of Chapel Hill Transit, acknowledged that the analysis assumed the full capacity of a bus to include sitting passengers plus standing passengers.
“The baseline that we were using as far as capacity of the vehicles was 60. That’s a fairly full 40 foot bus,” said Lichfield. “There’s 37 to 38 seats on that bus so that’s assuming there are people standing on that bus.”
Changing the definition of capacity to include only sitting passengers would change the projected results.
The council passed a resolution in June of this year authorizing the town to enter negotiations with the developer, subject to receipt and review of traffic impact, fiscal impact, and environmental impact analyses.
Thursday’s conversation will help prepare the town to negotiate with Obey Creek Ventures, LLC.
The Chapel Hill Town Council calendar is full of “special meetings” over the next five months to talk about the proposed development. The council will meet Monday at Town Hall for another session focused on Obey Creek.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/ch-town-council-talks-traffic-transit-around-obey-creek/
On Tuesday night in Chapel Hill the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to expand bus services in Orange County over the next five years.
Orange County Planning Director Craig Benedict presented details of the five year expansion to the board.
“We will be talking about, roughly, seven routes that we’ll be able to put into operation in the spring of next year after we receive some buses,” said Benedict.
Orange Public Transportation, which serves rural areas of the county, will coordinate with Triangle Transit Authority and Chapel Hill Transit.
The county plans to add bus service from Cedar Grove to Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. Efland will also be connected to Hillsborough.
Full sized Buses cost about $450,000 each. Benedict said the county will buy small, 20-passenger buses for the expanded service. “Our buses are really only about $75,000 total a piece,” said Benedict.
The bulk of the money will come from the one-half cent sales tax increase and vehicle registration fee that voters approved in 2012. The county started collecting this money in April 2013. The county estimates the expansion will cost between $100,000 and $500,000 each year for the next five years.
Benedict said the county will gather data on how many people are using the buses. He said routes and schedules will be adjusted to ensure efficient use of the buses.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/orange-county-increase-bus-services/
CHAPEL HILL – Launch Chapel Hill is accepting applications for the Winter 2014 Accelerator program through November 22.
The program, designed to build successful start-ups, runs 22 weeks from January 6 – June 6, and kicks off with a three day accelerator boot camp. Two information sessions will take place to inform people about the applications process and tour the space. The first will be held on Monday, October 28, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and the second will be on Tuesday, November 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
For more information click here.
The Orange County Public Library has announced that Friends of the Carrboro Branch Libraries will host its annual book sale on November 2 from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and November 3 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at McDougle Middle School.
Proceeds from the sale allow Friends of the Carrboro Branch Library to support library programs and purchase material.
Hardcover Books – $1
Trade and regular paperback books -$0.50
DVD’s and CD’s – $1
Coffee Table and Specialty books – as priced
VHS Tapes – FREE
Sunday Bag Sale – $3.00
For more information call Linda Browner at 919-969-8145.
During the evening of October 31, Chapel Hill Transit will end service early on the D, J, NS, and NU routes.
Due to the Franklin Street event on Halloween, safe ride buses will operate from 11:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. along detoured routes. No buses will operate from the park and ride lots to the Halloween celebration.
For more information click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/launch-chapel-hill-book-sale-chapel-hill-transit/
CHAPEL HILL – The Orange County Public Library will celebrate Halloween this year by hosting a variety of fun activities and events.
All the events that the OCPL will host are free to the public, and people of all ages are encouraged to attend. The first event, Countdown to Halloween, takes place on Monday October 21 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the OCPL main library.
The library will screen the world premiere of the Teen Murder Mystery 2013 Film, and hold an after-party including a costume contest, zombie mayhem, and Halloween trivia. For more information click here.
Chapel Hill will begin its annual leaf collection on Monday October 21 and continue through late February. Residents may place loose leaves and pine straw that is free of debris behind the curb or drainage ditch for pick-up.
Crews will not pick up yard waste that is placed in plastic bags since they are often not compostable. Instead residents may use 30-gallon paper bags, leave piles, rigid containers, or roll carts available through Public Works Department.
Pick-up for yard waste will be on Thursday for residents who have Monday garbage service, and Friday for residents with Tuesday garbage service. For more information you can click here.
Chapel Hill transit Safe Ride will not operate on Friday and Saturday this weekend, due to fall break.
The Safe Ride will operate on Halloween from 11:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. along detoured routes. The Safe Ride will not serve downtown Chapel Hill but will have stops near downtown. For more information click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/ocpl-celebrates-halloween-leaf-collection-safe-ride/
CHAPEL HILL- Each weekday morning, 17,000 Chapel Hillians leave town to go to work, while 40,000 drive in. With only 7,000 who work near where they live, many residents are subject to long commutes, traffic and air pollution.
At Thursday’s forum hosted by the Sierra Club and the local Chamber of Commerce, candidates for Chapel Hill Town Council weighed in on how to address the “in-and-out challenge.”
George Cianciolo said he’d like to see more people live and work in Chapel Hill.
“For the 17,000 that are driving out we need to create more jobs so that they can have jobs here and don’t need to leave,” said Cianciolo. “For the 40,000 that are driving in, we need to make housing more affordable here so they can afford to live here.”
But Loren Hintz said many will continue to commute.
“We have institutions that employ a lot of people, and to house everyone we might have to be twice the size of Cary,” said Hintz. “So I think it’s really important to focus on the transportation issue.”
Ed Harrison said if he’s re-elected, promoting transit would be one of his top priorities.
“Keep working and working and working on transit at every level: regional, local and neighborhood,” said Harrison.
Given that half of the eligible voters in Chapel Hill are between 18 and 24 years old, moderator D.G. Martin asked the candidates what they would do to better serve the young adult population.
Paul Neebe said he’d focus on better bike routes and greenways.
“I think that we need to make sure that the town is safe for people bicycling and walking,” said Neebe.
Amy Ryan agreed, saying she’s seen firsthand the shift away from cars as a primary mode of transportation.
“I have one of those anecdotal non-driving 20-year-olds that you hear about,” said Ryan. “Watching her try to get around town and to get to jobs and back and forth to school it is quite a challenge, so I think better bike routes, better greenways and better bus systems.”
D.C. Swinton said many young people leave the area because they can’t find affordable housing.
“We also have to make sure to have affordable housing for them when they get out of school because they may not get the most high-paying jobs in Chapel Hill and will have to leave and go somewhere else,” said Swinton.
When it comes to connecting with young voters, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said elected officials just need to reach out.
“One of the things we need to do is be engaged with then and not just assume we know what they want and come up with some sort of prescription,” said Kleinschmidt. “It’s frustrating.”
An audience member asked the candidates what Chapel Hill should do to help the homeless once IFC’s emergency shelter shifts to a transitional housing program.
Sally Greene said at the moment, the town has no plan.
“The town, as far as I know, does not have a plan for this,” said Greene. “I’m the representative to the homelessness partnership in the county and I think this is a conversation we need to have.”
Gary Kahn suggested that local houses of worship could offer space for shelter.
“Make use of the various churches, synagogues and other centers to help the homeless,” said Kahn.
Maria Palmer said she’d like to see UNC partner with the town to provide mental health services for those in need.
“Mental health and addiction problems are big and we are not putting in the resources we need,” said Palmer. The university and the hospitals need to help us. We need to do more and I think we can do more. “
If you’d like to see the full forum, it will be rebroadcast on the People’s Channel later this month.
Early voting runs October 17 through November 2. Election Day is November 5.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/town-council-candidates-discuss-chapel-hills-in-and-out-challenge/
CHAPEL HILL –The new permanent director of your local transit system, Brian Litchfield, says he’s ready to take on his role and provide better service than ever to bus riders across the town.
Litchfield says he learned a lot during his ten months as interim director, and he’s humbled and honored that the Town Manager determined that he would be the best person for the position.
Without the combined effort of its 235 employees, though, Litchfield says Chapel Hill Transit would not have the quality of service it has today.
“Many times, when people think about transit, they think about large buses and bus drivers, and that’s incredibly important, but there are a number of other employees that work for us that help either fix buses or fuel buses or clean buses that are all part of the service that we call Chapel Hill Transit,” Litchfield says.
An important aspect to public transit systems throughout the country—much like any company—is funding, and Litchfield says he plans to incorporate a strategic and sustainable financial planning process to our own transit system, which has grown to become the second largest in the state.
Part of the budget for Chapel Hill Transit is a result of an increase in the sales tax in vehicle registration fees, which were approved by the voters of Orange County.
“We’re beginning to see, as early as this month, service improvements to our local service as a result of that,” Litchfield says.
Litchfield says getting a grasp on what can be done as far as funding of Chapel Hill Transit will be the starting point for any other changes to the system.
“Once we have a good plan in place there, we’ll be in much better shape to begin addressing other areas,” Litchfield says.
Before working in Chapel Hill, Litchfield was the chief development officer for the Des Moines Regional Transit Authority in Des Moines, Iowa.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/chts-new-director-on-new-challenges/