****UPDATE: The technical corrections bill passed both chambers of the legislature and now awaits the signature of Governor Roy Cooper to become law.****
After appearing, once again, to be targeted by the North Carolina General Assembly, it seems as though the Durham-Orange Light Rail project has fought off its impending death.
The 17.7-mile light rail proposal has been the target of budget language over the past three years that would have, in varying ways, severely damaged the prospects or even stopped the project from moving forward. That continued this year when Republican lawmakers rolled out a budget outside of normal procedure that went before lawmakers for a yes-or-no vote and did not allow for amendments.
This year’s budget initially included language requiring light rail projects to obtain all non-state funding before North Carolina would allocate that money. But that presented an issue because the federal government, which is expected to pay for half of the project’s $2.47 billion in capital costs, requires all non-federal funding to be committed before it will allocate funding as well.
A technical corrections bill is now being considered in the General Assembly to cover varying fixes to the budget, which includes new language regarding light rail projects.
The new bill says that “state funding may not be expended for a light rail project until a written agreement is provided to the Department establishing that all non-State funding necessary to construct the project has been committed.”
Carrboro Alderman and chair of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization Damon Seils said via email that the new language “is positive and would enable this important project to move forward.”
The Orange County Board of Commissioners issued a statement earlier this month encouraging the change in language to the original legislation that would allow the project to move forward without the state expending any funding to the light rail project until it received federal approval.
The technical corrections bill specifically limits the DOLRT funding to $190 million, which is a decrease in funding from the 10 percent of the capital cost that was previously state law. That state-funding figure is also down from 25 percent of the project’s capital cost, which was anticipated when the project was first proposed.
Seils said in a phone interview Wednesday morning that the new cap is “one we can work with.”
The total cost of the DOLRT rises to approximately $3.3 billion when financing is included.
The light rail portion is just one piece of the overall technical corrections bill that is currently being considered by state lawmakers.