Category Archives: Transportation

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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Energetic Discussions at Transit Forum

A crowd of about 125 people attended the Learn, Discuss, Take Action Forum at Extraordinary Ventures on March 14th.

See helpful transportation links here.

In Part I, Craig Benedict (Orange County Planning and Inspections Director) reviewed County demographics and transit needs, and Theo Letman (Orange County Transit Director) shared present and future routes for transit in the county, followed by a number of clarifying questions.

In Part II, Alex Cabanes (Smart Transit Future) and Bonnie Hauser  (Orange County Voice) compared the light rail, bus rapid transit and feeder bus service,  discussing costs, implementation, and ridership. In Part III,  Sheila Creth moderated a lively discussion. The video segments are in three sections following this program agenda. 

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Learn, Discuss, Take Action on Transit!

Important note:  Learn, Discuss, Take Action on Transit will be held at Extraordinary Ventures at 5:15 pm on Elliott Road opposite Whole Foods, (not the Town library as previously announced.)

When C.H.A.L.T. learned about the new 2.5 billion dollar pricetag for the light rail portion of GoTriangle’s transit plan, we decided it was time to dig in to the finances and reevaluate if the Orange County Bus Rail Investment Plan would reduce congestion and provide for our future needs. Public transportation is critical for our region and we need the best value from our investment!

This is the time to get informed. Join us on Tuesday, 5:30 pm, March 14th, at Extraordinary Ventures on Elliott Road.  Come early at 5:15 pm to see the exhibits and enjoy the refreshments. Orange County experts will explain our current transportation plans and citizen experts will evaluate our options. Because GoTriangle did not get plans and financial details to Orange County in time for a considered public review, major capital decisions are rushed and must be made by the end of April.

Get prepared to tell the Commissioners what you think at a public hearing to be held 7:00 pm, April 18th at the Richard Whitted Building on Tryon Street in Hillsborough.

This is why  your voice matters now! Learn about our transit options at this meeting.
March 14, 2017 • 5:15 pm – 7:30 pm   Exhibits open at 5:15 pm

Extraordinary Ventures, 200 S. Elliott Road, Chapel Hill

Why Orange County’s Transportation Plan is a Pressing Issue for Orange County Taxpayers
Since January we’ve found out that state funding cut backs have raised our local share for the Light Rail project from 25% to 40%.  We are exposed to several big risks that would drive our local costs higher.  At the March 8th County Commisison meeting, we learned that a large part of the borrowing required to fund the local cost share had not been disclosed by GoTriangle, driving the total project cost of the Light Rail alone to $3 billion or more. (See and hear video of Earl McKee’s questions below under transit links.)
What is Bus Rapid Transit?
A cost effective technology is available and Chapel Hill has proactively planned for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on the MLK corridor between Eubanks Rd near I-40 and Southern Village.  At a recent Chamber of Commerce event, Brian Litchfield, Director of Chapel Hill Transit, showed in this video how this BRT system would work in Chapel Hill.  Check it out. Joe Milazo of the Regional Transit Alliance pointed out that BRT could be installed on many corridors, such as 15-501 and 54, at a fraction of the cost of light rail. Learn what BRT on our major corridors could do for our transportation efficiency.
Links About Proposed Transit Plans

How to Contact the County Commissioners

After you’ve become informed, we encourage you to write letters to the County Commissioners and the local newspapers.

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A New Concept for Transit

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A better public transit concept for Orange County would replace expensive 2.5B current light rail with lower cost Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines (plus commuter rail through Hillsborough) with a network of frequent bus and ride-sharing services.

On February 13, CHALT and SMART TRANSIT presented to the Town Council a concept for serving our transit needs through a network of transit service that could cost half as much and serves a much wider population of county residents.

Please view the presentation here: Transit Plan Presentation (PDF)

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

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 employment opportunities.

It’s time to stop, look and listen because Orange County’s bill for the light rail project connecting Duke with UNC hospitals has just doubled — resulting in increased property taxes — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Our County budget will be on the hook for cost overruns into the future putting our schools and social services at risk.

♦  On Monday, December 5th the Orange County Commissioners will meet in the Richard Whitted Building in Hillsborough to discuss the GoTriangle funding request.  If you wish to ask the Commissioners to delay any commitment to additional funding for this project until a proper cost benefit evaluation, scroll to the bottom of this article to sign the petition. ♦

GoTriangle has finally recognized that this regional transit authority will need more funding and that it’s not coming from the state of North Carolina. GoTriangle is asking Durham and Orange counties to makde up the difference!  For a start they are asking the Orange County Board of County Commissioners for an additional $40 million in funding, raising the local contribution from 25% to 40% of the overall project cost.

All this assumes that the state legislature grants full funding of 10% and that the project, which is only 30% engineered, will come in on budget- it’s aready gone up and they have not even started the design work.

In addition, GoTriangle has requested that an additional $20 million be diverted from sidewalk/greenway projects to the Light Rail project.

GoTriangle representatives explained that the increase in funding is intended to cover a $250 million funding gap created by a decrease in state contributions from 25% to “up to 10%”, as well as interest costs associated with a mismatch between the timing of funds from the Federal Transportation Authority and construction.

Unfortunately, missing from GoTriangle’s presentation was information about a number of other important financial factors which will, very likely, mean that the project cost (and Orange County’s share) will rise even further. These include:

  • Rising interest rates
  • Rising constriction labor costs
  • Uncertainties about federal contributions
  • Lower sales tax revenues than expected
  • Possibility of less than 10% state contribution
  • Amount of cost overruns the county must absorb

Note: Assuming the revised budget is $1.87B, then there is already an increase of $520M (+38%) over the earlier 2012 estimate of $1.35B … and they haven’t even finished designing the project!

See article by Tammy Grubb in Chapel Hill News, Orange, Durham asked to spend $175 milllion more for light transit and Commentary by Orange County Chairman Earl McKee, http://bit.ly/2fT8BRI

Everyone wants better transit, and Orange County voters approved a local tax in 2015 for improved transit.  But the money raised is going overwhelmingly to funding light rail studies, while shortchanging investment in the practical public transportation that we need here in Orange County.

Why should County elected officials reevaluate the light rail project now?  The cost of the project may have exceeded any perceived benefit and would reduce funding for important Orange County priorities:

  1. A viable Chapel Hill transit system which better serves Chapel Hill and which can be expanded into rural areas where UNC workers live;
  2. Future funding for Bus Rapid Transit, sidewalks, and bikeways;
  3. Maintaining excellence in our public schools which have been hit hard by state cutbacks; and
  4. Moderating tax increases to keep living in Orange County affordable.

The County Commission have not said where they would find the funds for the additional funding for light rail, but most likely it would come from new property taxes –  estimated to rise by 10 cents if the carrying costs of the bonds just passed are factored in.


When we raise taxes we make it more and more difficult to make living in Orange County affordable. Taking on this heavy light rail commitment for the next ten years would squeeze our public school budgets just when the state has cut funding for public schools,  forcing our county to make up the difference with property tax revenue.

Before the Commissioners commit to any more County money they must:

  • Understand how the additional commitments would impact future Orange County school budgets and other priorities for housing, affordability and transportation.
  • Do an evaluation by an independent auditor of the figures GoTriangle presents, as well as the benefits and costs of the light rail project in the light of the cost increases.

♦    Sign the petition asking the County Commissioners to hit the “pause button”  http://bit.ly/DOLRT_OC

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You can send an individual emails to the Board members to reinforce concern and/or opposition to county dollars being spent on the Light Rail project here:  ocbocc@orangecountync.gov.

You can see all letters in the Commissioner public record here.

Resources:

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Town off to Slow Start on Connectivity and Mobility Project

Post by Joan Guilkey                         Take the Survey

About three weeks ago, Staff announced a Town-wide project to improve our ability to walk, bike and ride a bus to travel all over Chapel Hill. The Town’s objectives are to reduce vehicle traffic by enhancing safety for pedestrians. Stewart Inc., a consultant with offices in Charlotte, Durham and Raleigh, has been retained to conduct the project under the leadership of David Bonk, the town’s Transportation Planning Manager.

zebra_crossing_630pxAs a first step in the study, one or two members of each Town advisory board was asked to provide input about where each person currently travels and by what method. These participants were named to a project Steering Committee, but it remains unclear what exactly will be expected of this Committee. Each person completed a survey and the information was mapped. About a week later, all Chapel Hill residents were encouraged to do the same at two sessions in the public library.

Several who attended these public meetings left feeling very frustrated because the consultants did not adequately explain the process they will use. Surely, town staff does not believe that a few small and poorly-publicized sessions where citizens write on maps and complete a survey are sufficient to provide the information needed to get the necessary input do this project well.

The maps the consultant provided were disjointed, and hard to use and did little to clarify our transportation and connectivity needs.  For example, participants eager to be helpful spent wasted time putting dots on maps located far apart from each other.  It would have been helpful to show all bus routes on the maps, and maybe even proposed rail stops.

While we are fully supportive of the need for this mobility study, we are concerned about the validity of the results of the first phase of the study if good input is not received.  There does not seem to be a systematic plan to reach out to hundreds, if not thousands, of walkers, bikers, and bus riders needed if Stewart is to obtain enough detailed information to determine Town connectivity priorities.

Stewart says they will utilize the town’s Greenways Master Plan and the Bicycle Plan, bus routes and projected light rail, but they were unaware of the Bus Rapid Transit Study now underway.  Our own staff is far more knowledgeable about the pedestrian and connectivity needs, but Stewart was hired we are told because their workload is too heavy to get to the job done in a timely manner.

For this reason, it is critically important that citizens provide lots of trip information so there can be no doubts as to the most used and most needed pedestrian routes.  We encourage everyone to take the survey.  This data collection effort will continue throughout the summer. www.surveymonkey.com/r/chmobility.

In addition to taking the survey, you could consider writing the consultant representative Randi Gates, at rgates@stewartinc.com or David Bonk, dbonk@townofchapelhill.org, the project director stating where you wish to travel safely by bike, bus or walking.

Be sure to say where your trips typically begin, each route you take now, and where each trip ends. The most used and desired routes and destinations will take top priority when the analysis of data starts. List each route you currently take and indicate where you see problem spots. Also list routes you would take if you could do so safely. Ask your friends to do the same. Thank you for helping make our needs known.

If you have questions, call or email David Bonk at 919-969-5064, dbonk@townofchapelhill.org

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