The Future of Regional Transit

Last week was a bad week for local and regional transit. The County Commissioners voted to postpone the half-cent sales tax referendum for increased service and future light rail, and Chapel Hill Transit submitted a budget with heavy service reductions (including cutting service completely to two neighborhoods). With these decisions, it is likely that it will be several years before we see improvements to our transit system.

However, regional transit is still moving forward, even though it has been reduced to a crawl. Chapel Hill Transit has committed to continuing the Pittsboro Express route, even though Chatham County cut funding for the service and CHT is cutting routes in its own jurisdiction to do so. As detailed in Geoff Green's great post, the Chapel Hill Town Council will be recommending alignment of the future light rail system to the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Transportation Advisory Committee on June 27th. Also, the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO) has submitted their draft Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan, and are having an open house tonight at Chapel Hill Town Hall (and another one Thursday at the Orange County Library in Hillsborough) to discuss it.

And even though the half-cent sales tax will be the largest source of revenue for expanded bus and future rail service, according to the Investment Plan, nearly $1.7 million dollars is projected to raised for transit in this county this year due to a region-wide $3 vehicle registration increase, a county-levied $7 vehicle registration increase, and rental car tax revenue. So, transit in Orange County has had some setbacks lately, but the groundwork is being laid for quick implementation of the plan if and when the County Commissioner decide to place the half-cent sales tax on the ballot.

What do you all think about the future of regional transit, and when do you think that we should vote on the sales tax referendum?


I'll be there today, in large part to lobby for the LRT alignment through Meadowmont. I'd encourage anyone else interested in the transit plans to show up. I went to a Triangle Transit outreach session on the LRT plans late last year/early this year, and it was put together very well, so I expect this should be informative.

One correction the sale tax if passed will the the largest LOCAL revenue source for mass transit. The lion share (75%) of the money is to come from the Feds and State which is no sure thing. Given how our economy has changed and I don't see a return to the old ways, light rail is a dream at best. Without the Feds and State support light rail is a no go according the experts at the BOCC meeting last week.

Erin, thanks for this excellent summary.  The only referendum still likely to proceed this year would be in Durham County, if supported by that Board of Commissioners on June 27. The Durham City Council resolved on June 6 to delay use of any funds raised by the sales tax until other counties passed the tax. My colleague on the TTA board, Durham Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, pointed out last week that the additional revenues from the vehicles which you mention could be spent without waiting for other counties. Orange County could take the same approach before any sales tax referendum. I'm not making a statement of support for counties doing that, but you are right to point out the options are there.  Ed Harrison

Today was a GOOD day for regional transit. This morning the Durham/Chapel Hill/Carrboro Metropolitan Planning organization unanimously approved the Durham County Bus/Rail plan. This afternoon, the Triangle Transit Board unanimously approved the same plan, established a special tax district for Durham County, and approved a November 8, 2011 referendum in Durham County on a 1/2% sales tax for transit.  All those action were statutory prerequisites.  Left now are Durham County Commissioners to vote Monday night on the Bus/Rail plan and the referendum date, and for the Durham County Board of Elections to sign off on the date.  Two Chapel Hill precincts will be voting on the referedum as they are in Durham County. Orange and Wake Counties can be added later.

It was great to be present for both sets of votes, and voting in the second set on behalf of Chapel Hill.  Gerry appeared to casually drop into the Triangle Transit Board meeting as if he'd just wandered in from Jones Street. Turns out he was very much needed to keep us straight on the "statutory prerequisites." As Gerry points out, Orange County can be added later.   Ed Harrison

By a unanimous vote, Durham County Commissioners voted last night to put a 1/2% sales tax for transit referendum on the November 8, 2011 ballot, thought they said they would actually levy the tax only if either Orange OR Wake also approve at the polls. $40m transportation bond issue on the October 11, 2011 Raleigh ballot has the following transit projects: Moore Square bus transfer facility improvements $3.5 mUnion Station $3.0 mBus shelters and benches $0.75 m TOTAL TRANSIT $7.25 m of $40m There is lots of money also for sidewalks and greenways.  The Moore Square project is to renovate the central bus transfer facility and add a third lane with bays to allow increased capacity. The Union station proposal is the local share of a new Amtrak station with two station tracks. So why has Orange County left itself behind on transit?

Excellent question, Gerry. Especially since it's nearly always Orange that is leading the way in the region and the state with smart transportation policies that others ought to emulate.

I'll be looking to hear more from the Commissioners about why they didn't support this in, oh say about May of 2012.

One Orange Commissioner had a pleasantly positive comment about the Durham County referendum early this week. On Tuesday, Barry Jacobs said to Bruce Siceloff of the N&O:

An electoral victory in Durham County could add political luster to the cause in Wake and Orange."We hope to put it on the ballot next year, so certainly it would help if it already has had success and people are talking about it in a positive way," said Barry Jacobs, an Orange County commissioner.

I asked Barry about that statement today.  He told me that WUNC-FM had  interviewed him this morning on the same topic, and that he'd said much the same thing.   I didn't press the timing issue with him, but he suggested that the newer commissioners are not in any hurry to hold a referendum. Note that Foushee, Hemminger, Pelissier and Yuhasz could all be on the ballot in May 2012. In the meantime, as someone assigned to vote in Durham County, I will be working to pass the transit referendum this November.  Ed Harrison

Sorry about the formatting of that post (which duplicated itself as well).  Advice on fonts from the masters of this blog would help. Ed Harrison

  1. Never, ever copy and paste from Word. 
  2. To strip out problematic formating, either save your content in a plain text editor and copy from there, or use this cute workaround:Click "disable rich text" below the comment or post body form, paste your content there, select all and copy the content, enable rich text, paste.

I'll fix your post above, Ed.


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