CHAPEL HILL - Triangle Transit General Manager David King said that he questions the validity of recent criticism directed toward the proposed Durham-Orange light rail. He said he is confident about the need for the light rail, given the projected population growth for the area in the decades to come.
The 17-mile-rail line would begin at Alston Ave. near North Carolina Central’s Campus and end at UNC Hospitals. The track would generally follow the North Carolina Railroad Corridor, which is 15-501, I-40, and NC 54.
A panel of experts with backgrounds in transportation, engineering and urban planning recently appeared before Wake County Commissioners.
The Chapel Hill News reported that the experts said that the region lacks the population density, traffic congestion and ridership for a light rail. The experts acknowledged by phone that they hadn’t spent as much time reviewing information about the Orange-Durham light rail plan. However, they said it was difficult to justify the need for the $1.4 billion project based on what they reviewed in the regional financial data.
King said he believed the men weren’t well-versed in the matters concerning Orange and Durham Counties. He added that the light rail is outside the realm of Wake County.
“The point is that someone asked a question about Durham and Orange, and these folks [the three experts] declined to comment because that is not what they had come prepared to talk about,” King said. “Those three folks were here to talk about Wake County.”
Though critics have said that the area is not dense enough to require a light rail system, King said that he believed the community should think of the necessity for the project in terms of growth, citing the population increase that has occurred in the area since the 1990s.
Between 2020 and 2030, Orange and Durham Counties are projected to grow at a rate of 13.3 percent, according to the N.C. Office of State Budget and Management.
“This system is not aiming at where we are today but where we will be 12, 20 and 30 years from now,” he stated.
King said he believed that having a light rail option would appeal to environmentally-conscious commuters as well.
There is already substantial bus ridership between Orange and Durham Counties, King explained, which he believed would get an improved transportation experience with light rail.
“70,000 rides a day are already occurring on the bus system. A lot of those are in this corridor will shift to light rail once that system opens.”
King added that travel between the two areas is constant, whereas other cities see heavy traffic in one direction during the morning and vice versa at night.
Triangle Transit is moving forward with applying for federal funding. The first phase of the process is submitting an application to the Federal Transit Administration by December 20 for authorization to proceed into the environment planning phase. King anticipates to hear a decision in 45 days or less.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/triangle-transit-leader-defends-light-rail-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- Triangle Transit General Manager David King told county commissioners on Tuesday that plans to implement new bus services in Orange County and build a light rail line to Durham are well underway.
“The biggest piece of the entire package is, of course, the light rail,” said King. “We are working on planning that not unlike if we were planning a major freeway.”
Orange County’s half-cent sales tax for transit was levied last month, but the first revenues won’t be disbursed until July. Triangle Transit staffers estimate that in the first year taxes and fees will generate $7.3 million dollars in Orange County. Half of that will go towards planning for light rail, slightly less than half will go into a reserve fund, and 10 percent will be used to fund bus services.
But access to state and federal funding is less certain.
Despite rushing to submit an application for federal funding last September, King says Triangle Transit now needs to reapply due to a change in the grant criteria that mandates more environmental study of the light rail route.
“Once you enter what everybody calls the federal pipeline, you’ve got two years- 24 months to complete the environmental part of the work,” said King. “The clock starts sticking as soon as they admit you into the pipeline. We feel like we’ve got maybe 26 or 28 months of work that can’t be crammed into 24. We certainly don’t want to take that risk since that is a major metric.”
There are also questions being raised about the impact of the state budget on the plan. The draft Senate version could make it harder for towns and counties to access funding for transit projects like light rail.
Twenty-five percent of the funding needed for the light rail line is slated to come from the state; fifty percent from the federal government.
On a local level, Triangle Transit officials said expanded bus service funded by the plan would likely start next year with added trips on a route from UNC to Southpoint Mall.
Transit planners are also eyeing a Mebane-to-Durham express route in the near future. Earl McKee and Renee Price represent the unincorporated areas of the county, which solidly rejected the transit tax in the 2012 election. Both pressed Triangle Transit officials for assurances that rural residents would be consulted on where new routes should run in central and northern Orange County.
“With this paltry amount of $736,000, out of about $7 million, for bus service, there’s no way we can do two routes on this. There’s no way,” said Earl McKee. “So what I want to make sure is, yes, we need data-driven decisions, but that is not the only factor. Service to the citizens that are paying for this must have a priority.”
With that in mind, officials are planning outreach activities throughout the summer to talk to rural residents about where new bus routes should go. They’ll update county commissioners on those efforts sometime this fall.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/tta-oc-transit-plan-off-to-a-good-start/