Jeff Mann is the general manager of GoTriangle, the transit authority that’s been working to build a light rail line from Durham to Chapel Hill. He says the legislature’s cap on spending may not be enough to derail the project.
“We’re still evaluating what the provision would mean to the project,” says Mann. “Obviously it’s a hurdle that we would have to overcome, but we’re still looking at alternatives and evaluating what it means, so I’m not prepared to say now that it’s a project-killing provision, only that we will continue to evaluate funding alternatives and work hard to support the project, because we believe it’s vital to the region.”
Buried in the state budget released this week is a provision that would cap funding for light rail projects at $500,000 dollars per year, far less than the $138 million total transit planners had been expecting.
“[The project] was allotted that funding through the Strategic Transportation Investments Law, which scores projects through a data-driven process,” says Mann. “This cap that has been inserted in the budget would circumvent that process and not allow expenditures of that $138 million except for that small amount.”
Transit officials worry the cut in state funds could also jeopardize federal funding for the $1.6 billon dollar project.
“Projects such as this, that are funded through the Federal Transit Administration, typically are funded in a formula that’s 50 percent federal funding, 25 percent local funding, and 25 percent state funding,” says Mann. “So obviously it’s a concern if we don’t have the matching funds to match the federal 50 percent.”
Just a day before the state budget was released, the Federal Transit Administration awarded GoTriangle $1.7 million to help plan development around light rail stops.
Despite the legislature’s spending cap, Mann says he’s committed to moving forward with the planning process and seeking other sources of funding if necessary.
“We want folks to know that we’re still working for this project. We think it’s the right project for the region. We keep evaluating alternatives for the project to move forward because we think its a vital project.”
The 17-mile light rail line is still in the project development phase. GoTriangle anticipates asking permission from the FTA to enter into the engineering phase early next year.
In the meantime, as transit planners assess their funding options, GoTriangle is preparing to host a series of public hearings on the recently-released environmental impact study that narrows down potential routes through Orange and Durham counties.
For a full list of those meetings, click here.