Commentary by Walt Mack
It’s make or break time for the Durham/Orange County Light Rail Line, and sticker shock has put a glaze over the eyes of taxpayers.
What started out as a price tag of $1.6 billion for the 17-mile track has escalated to over $1.87 billion. As construction draws near in 2020, we could be staring at a staggering $2 billion price tag.
In 2011 and 2012, voters in Durham and Orange Counties approved a .5 cent sales tax to fund their share of the cost of the project, while the Federal Transportation Authority was to pay $1.25 billion over 10 years and the State of North Carolina share was to be $467 million.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly threw a monkey wrench into Go Triangle’s plans by budgeting only $187 million– far short of what Go Triangle was expecting.
So who is being asked to make up the difference? You guessed it—Durham and Orange County taxpayers, possibly by increasing property taxes.
Additional costs will be incurred, since Go Triangle has proposed extending the line from the Alston Road North station to the North Carolina Central University campus.
Go Triangle is now facing a December 31 deadline to begin the engineering phase of the project. This is not the scenario voters in Durham and Orange County expected when they approved the half cent sales tax. It is my feeling the original $1.6 billion could be better spent upgrading and expanding our current transportation system to better serve those people who need it the most.