Commissioners Consider Transit at First Meeting of New Year

Last night marked the first meeting of the Orange County Board of Commissioners this year and hopefully the first post in a push by OrangePolitics to take a deeper look at the board and its biweekly meetings. Since the board had not met in over a month, the agenda was quite crowded, but a few items are worth delving into.

Perhaps most notable is the discussion of the proposed Triangle Regional Transit Program. Discussion on the project consisted primarily of a back-and-forth between two representatives from Triangle Transit and the various commissioners. A key point that emerged in the discussion—primarily put forth by Commissioners Earl McKee and Steve Yuhasz and by county manager Frank Clifton—was that the entire county will have to spend significant sums of money to build the project and so the benefits of the entire system should accrue as such. Though the primary debate in the region has been on whether a new light rail route should go through the Meadowmont neighborhood or stay along NC 54 as it makes its way toward Durham, some of the commissioners and the county manager want to consider a route that stays along US 15-501.

The goal, these critics say, is to generate more economic activity in Orange County, since the route along NC 54 would move more quickly into Durham County thus sending more jobs and more tax revenue there. Though the representatives from Triangle Transit said that the numbers just don’t work out to support transit along 15-501, they will bring the commissioners more information at their next meeting.

Interestingly, several of the commissioners, most notably McKee, also questioned whether light rail should be the technology employed instead of low or high bus rapid transit. Though all acknowledged that light rail would eventually be necessary in our region, some questioned whether now was the time to institute the service.

In the end, the commissioners did not make a definitive decision on how to direct Commissioner Alice Gordon to vote at the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro MPO meeting that will decide the preferred route and technology. All agreed this will be perhaps the largest decision the commissioners have made in the past few decades and as such needed adequate time for consideration. The issue will come up again at the commissioners’ next regular meeting on February 7. At that time, Triangle Transit will also do a presentation on the commissioners' transit questions.

The commissioners also issued a proclamation expressing their distaste for Amendment One, received several updates from county departments, allowed plans to go forward for a conservation easement in Hillsborough, and requested representation in the Burlington-Graham MPO. I live-tweeted the entire meeting, so for a complete run down of the evening’s events check out #BOCC on Twitter.

Issues: 

Total votes: 148

Comments

I have to agree with what Carrboro alderman Dan Coleman wrote this morning on another thread:

According to WCHL, county commissioners and manager drew a blank on the economic development advantages of transit. http://www.chapelboro.com/County-Commissioners-Question-Transit-Plan/120... This is particularly odd given that just a few months ago they were touting how much of the new sales tax would be paid by out of county visitors. In the future, regional transit will be a big part of how they get here. In addition, transit is a major contribution to economic localization... [more]

the repeated canard nationwide by opponents that pretend to be supporters (like "concern trolls" on blogs) is that "now is not the time". well, now is not when it is being built, it is being built a decade from now. If the idea is for Orange County to start over, that's great, but I suspect that Durham and Wake will just move forward on their own. Orange County does not generate enough sales tax revenue to have subsantial mileage of fixed guideway rail. Durham is willing to financially support the LRT alignment from 15-501 @ I-40 all the way to Meadowmont/Hillmont.  Substitute running it up Franklin Street all the way in Orange County has much higher right of way and other costs, not to mention starting over?

The Orange County hits just keep on coming. At today's meeting of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro MPO Technical Coordinating Committee, the technical staff recommended approval of the light rail route from Alston Avenue to UNC Hospitals, studying both the C1 and C2 paths, as the locally preferred alternative (LPA) for consideration by the Technical Advisory Committee.Representatives from Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Hillsborough voted yes. Orange County voted no, the only vote against the LPA.

Did Orange County want to start over? If so, where have they been?

My understanding is that the Orange County representative expressed concerns voiced last night by some of the commissioners--specifically, that a light rail route along 15-501 might be preferable and that service improvements should begin with bus rapid transit rather than light rail.

Somewhere in the docs the OC commissioners will find that a 15-501 route was seriously considered but rejected for various reasons, including no doubt the fact that that entire route is already built up and it would be costly to run the line that way.That said, Damon, do you know the exact wording of what the TCC recommended?

In a strange turn, I learned from MPO staff that the Orange County vote was made improperly by an alternate without voting privileges, rather than by a regular member. Therefore, the county's no vote doesn't count.In any case, the recommendation of the locally preferred alternative (with C1 and C2) will now move to the Technical Advisory Committee.

amateur hour

 A key point that emerged in the discussion—primarily put forth by Commissioners Earl McKee and Steve Yuhasz and by county manager Frank Clifton—was that the entire county will have to spend significant sums of money to build the project and so the benefits of the entire system should accrue as such. Was it something I said? (SNORT!) Ah my D2 representatives thinking of that map I planted in their heads...hopefully.http://results.enr.clarityelections.com/NC/Orange/33103/51401/en/md.html?cid=0118"Pardon me Boy...is that the Chapel Hill Choo Choo? It's a pie in the sky, on the taxpayers dime "Yea... I know... don't quit.... ;)Thanks for the info Jeff, It was my Birthday and I had to bug out.cw Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

This debate underlines how critical zoning is to the success of any light-rail system. If we're not willing to allow high-densit development in the Orange County/Chapel Hill stations, the economic advantages to OC/CH will be slight, as people will use the system to live in Durham, which has more and cheaper housing.But, if each stop allows for high-density development, the economic returns would be considerable, as businesses and residents alike could benefit from access to the universities. That, in turn, will help rural OC residents by reducing their taxes (bigger tax base means lower rates)  and allowing them to maintain their quality of life.One successful model for light-rail funding is to directly link it to land-use. After acquiring the land to build the system, the county (or other entity) could then recoup the increased land values near the station through a special assessment. But then, that will only work if we move beyond the "park and ride" model, which only shifts traffic patterns and has marginal economic benefit.

Were is this working now?cw   Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

http://www.scribd.com/doc/37555193/Spotlight-399-PublicTransit-in-North-CarolinaThe subsidy per trip is $20..That is Pats rail...who is voting for Pat? Where is light rail working anywhere in the nation? Amtrac can only break even on a few lines in the NE....and they do not even own the track... Light Rail is an UN agenda 21 plan>See: Democrats against agenda 21 (warning: it is the red pill of the Matrix, you will not be able to go back to sleep)cw  Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

are the number just for the Bus and demand transit for CH.Note the fare Revenue v expenses http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2010/agency_profiles/4051.pdf This is a great data site.cw Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

One can pit study v. study forever. I don't trust anything that comes out of right-wing think tanks (Cato, John Locke, Heritage, etc.), particularly when they're so transparently biased in favor of their donors. Any anti-transit study ignores the negative externalities associated with driving. Energy-intensive private transportation has immense social/environmental cost. We wouldn't be engaged in the middle east were it not for oil. Car culture also has a human cost. More than 1,300 people died in traffic accidents in North Carolina in 2009. Last year in NYC, which has almost as many people, just 237 died. Now, of course the state will never have the public transit options of NYC, but if the Triangle, the Triad and Charlotte all have light rail and other car alternatives, traffic fatalities will deminish.  Furthermore traffic costs worker productivity. Billions of dollars are wasted every year because people spend time in traffic rather than working. With public transit, traffic problems diminish considerably, both for passengers and drivers.  None of the studies you cite consider those externalities. Now, perhaps one doesn't care that much about reducing traffic fatalities, or the environment, or worker productivity. But, if they do, one has to figure those savings in when setting transit against expanding highways forever.  

last link is the is the beloved Federal Govenment who is also the source for the data contained w/in the other studies(see the small print)cw Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

There's data, and there's analysis. Operating expenses only measure direct costs and revenues, while I think that there are many other benefits to transit that aren't accounted for, like saving lives and decreasing traffic. The conservative think tanks like to take the operating/expense charts and pretend that there are no externalities, positive or negative, to transit/transportation policy. If they accounted for externalities, their arguments wouldn't be quite so strong. 

Like...the color of the train and the pleaseing astetics?Should we pretend that there are no externalities like the limits of taxpayer treasure? cw  Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

The County Manager on the externalities of the tax base. From the 2110-11 Budget:

The future - Developing the proposed FY 2010-11 Budget has been a difficult task. It forces the County to make several distasteful choices. It is likely that process will continue for at least the next two to three years. Orange County will continue to rely upon increasing residential property taxes as its single largest revenue source to fund governmental services. A lack of diversity and availability of retail facilities and building sites puts Orange County at a distinct disadvantage in being able to diversify its tax base and gain the use of retail sales tax revenues to support public services. Orange County (2008 #'s) ranked number 2 in the state for per capita income but only number 77 in sales tax collections per capita at $178 per person (this data was for the time period before the national economy fell to current levels). Clearly, Orange County residents shop elsewhere. Beyond current efforts to promote "Buy Local", no quick fix solution exists. However, an increasingly thoughtful dialog does need to occur with regards to how Orange County will continue to prosper without a reliance on ever increasing property values and taxes. Those on limited or fixed income will not be able to afford the taxes if alternative local government revenue sources are not developed.

   Weakness is provocative.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."-Maj. Douglas Zembiec

Taxes are important, too, which is why I support proposals to change how fund government at all levels. (In general, I support a consumption tax, which would replace income taxes, and a tax on negative externalities, such as pollution, traffic jams, etc.)I don't know enough about OC finances to say much about tax options. I would like to see Chapel Hill and Carrboro contribute more in way of various taxes to the light rail and other initiatives.

 

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