Category Archives: Transit Plan

Commissioners Vote “YES” on the Transit Plan, 5-2

Despite widespread objections to the plan throughout Orange County, the County Commissioners voted 5 – 2 to move forward with the light rail plan.

Those of us in Affordable Transit for All studied the issues and did our homework. Unfortunately for all or us, a Board majority did not address the financial and structural deficiencies that had been raised by their own consultant as well as hundreds of citizens.

Orange County Commissioners Earl McKee and Renee Price deserve our thanks for providing a strong voice for Orange County’s citizens. We are proud of them and believe they will be ultimately proved correct in their assessment that the Commission majority voted for a plan that does not serve the transit needs of Orange County and will cost us dearly.

We are also proud that through our efforts and others, you wrote, listened and spoke out for public transportation, social justice, and a fiscally responsible plan. Our commissioners received hundreds of personal and impassioned letters, and more than 200 people from every corner of Orange County signed the letter from Affordable Transit for All within 12 hours! Here’s the archive of emails to the commissioners – they are inspiring! Read the letter that summarizes the deficiencies in the plan with over 200 signatures.

The most immediate price for this ill-advised decision is that both Chapel Hill and Orange County taxpayers spend more of their budgets on bus service not provided by the transit tax. The two drivers in this increased burden for the taxpayer are: (1) the minimal support for additional bus service specified in the agreements just approved by the County Commission, and (2) the diminishing federal support for local transit. We need look no further that the Town budget just presented by Chapel Hill Town Manager Stancil to the Town Council which will require more tax payer support for Chapel Hill Transit. Read news article here.

What’s next? 

  • The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) will receive and evaluate the Durham-Orange Light Rail proposal over the next 30-60 days. During that time, the FTA will decide whether or not GoTriangle can proceed with spending $70 million of local funds for the engineering phase of the project.
  • In 2018, the project might or might not receive up to 10% of state funding. According to Assistant County Manager Travis Myren, the light rail project plan would be difficult to implement lacking state support.
  • The FTA will not decide whether to fund the project until 2020. If they fail to do so, Orange and Durham Counties are out the $100 million spent. That  federal decision could be influenced by many factors including the ones reported in this article. Here’s that report.

We anticipate many more discussions about the future of transit as the process unfolds. Affordable Transit for All is committed to continue to advocate for a rational transit plan for our county residents and businesses.

Thank you for your support!

Chapel Hill News Article


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The Consequences of Adopting a Risky Plan

If Moody’s more pessimistic  assumptions are used, Orange County will not have enough transit tax revenue to cover commitments.

The updated Orange County Transit Plan adds nearly $2 billion for the light rail project between UNC and Durham but does not add needed funds for bus service or bus rapid transit. As a result, bus hours have been cut by over 20% and the planned Bus Rapid Transit system from Eubanks to Southern Village along MLK, Columbia and 15-501 is not adequately funded and may not get built. The current transit plan adds nearly a billion dollars in debt and over $900 million in interest to build the project, and most recently additional debt was added for maintenance after being omitted.

If the Commissioners were to adopt the current proposal, they would assume that Orange County’s sales taxes will grow compounded and uninterrupted by recession at 3-6% every year for the next 45 years. Yet the county’s consultant told the commissioners on April 4th that the plan is very, very risky for Orange County.

If there’s an overage due to construction costs or interest rates, or if there’s a funding shortfall in sales tax, then the county will need to make up the difference, most likely via the general fund (which is used for schools and essential services). The current estimated portion of project cost for Orange County is about $300 million. No amount of County Board reassurance on this point has helped because the scenarios of increasing revenues every year with no recessions is unrealistic and foolish. We know the County budgets or property tax will take the hit for the revenue shortfalls.

April 20th County Board work session. No public comment allowed. To our surprise county staff and Davenport did not present the requested realistic scenario (intentionally labeled) “Moodys Pessimistic” that they had requested on April 4th. The graph above illustrates this scenario  and shows what will happen to Orange County cash reserves using these more realistic assumptions. This is not good news for Orange County because even the Moodys Pessimistic forecast is well above Orange County’s historical sales tax growth rate from 1996 to 2016.

It’s discouraging to observe that in the well attended April 4th public session the Commissioners expressed great concern about the risky revenue assumptions. None of this concern was evident at the April 20th work session and no one asked what would happen if the sales taxes don’t grow as expected.  It is also discouraging that Commissioners Mark Dorosin, Mia Burroughs, Mark Marcoplos, and Penny Rich found the more favorable and unrealistic scenarios presented at the work session “workable”.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs made an impassioned call for fiscal responsibility and for the Board to sign an agreement that will protect the County from undue risk.  That’s a position the entire Board needs to take.  So far only Commissioner Earl Mckee and Renee Price have found this plan to be fiscally irresponsible.

Consequences of a Risky Plan.  In addition to the revenue and cost risks, knowledgeable government officials are saying that the chances of federal and state monies needed to fund the project are diminished.

  • In 2019 the NC legislature will decide whether to fund any portion of the project (not more than 10%). Without any state support the total local share will go to x %.  The shortfall is likely to be financed through additional loans.
  • In 2020, Orange County will learn if the project is funded.  If it is not funded, the County will lose the entire 100M + investment.
  • On April 20th Assistant Orange County Manager Travis Myren said that the project will be impossible to build without Federal funds and difficult without state funds.
The Trump administration just rejected an overhaul of a major transit line in California where thousands of riders are moved each day.
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Packed Town Council Agenda Features Transit

County Bus and Rail Investment Plan.

Last December, GoTriangle planners asked the Orange County Commissioners for additional funds to cover a 40 million dollar shortfall. Then several weeks later, Gotriangle announced funds were not needed afterall, explaining that they will issue $935 million in new debt which will be paid using the 1/2 sales tax for another 50 years until 2062!  GoTriangle has made it clear that local counties will pay cost overruns. That could limit the growth of  bus service capacity to serve our growing county.

dolrrouteMap of proposed light rail project that serves only a tiny corner of Orange County. The developable  land served by the light rail line is almost all in Durham County. Light Rail will steer investment away from Orange County, hurting our tax base and

At the December County Commission meeting, GoTriangle promised Commissioners an up or down vote in April on the light rail portion of the plan whose total cost has escalated from 1.3 to 2.5 billion dollars. We wonder what happened to that promise. Given the new price tag and questions about the plan, we think citizens are due a public discussion and transparent decision in April as promised.  The more we study the GoTriangle Plan, the less there is to recommend it for Orange County residents trying to get around by public transit.

Also on the agenda is a GoTransit announcement for  upcoming design workshops on the station areas in Orange County. Those  Orange County station stops are:  UNC Hospitals, Mason Farm, Hamilton Road, and the Friday Center.  Two station stops in Durham County are Woodmont and Leigh Village.

Let’s think realistically about the prospects for economic growth and or affordable housing at each of these stops? UNC Hospitals, Mason Farm, and Friday Center proposed stations are all located on University land which limits taxable growth and are not located close to residential housing.  Hamilton Road offers little redevelopment potential as it was recently redeveloped.  Where are the much touted economic benefits?

Other key agenda items include:
– Report on OWASA water outage
– Transportation and Energy Efficiency Petitions
Announcement of Design Workshops for Light Rail project
Update on Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan
Retirement Residences, Estes Drive

Here is the entire Council agenda. (click on link)

It’s Time to Stop, Look and Listen on Light Rail Project

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