The Transit Referendum: Support and Opposition

For better or for worse, our local media works hard to give equal air time to both sides of the story. Some may fault them as giving too much voice to an opinion which represents a small minority of residents, others may thank them for giving life to a discussion. Regardless of what you think, it's sometimes difficult to cut through the noise. So where does the community stand on the whole? First, here's what our local media outlets have had to say after their editorial boards examined both sides of the transit debate. All three have endorsed voting for the referendum:

  • The Chapel Hill News: "If we build it, they will come. But if we don’t build it, they will come anyway. They will come and put increasing development pressure on our rural areas, clog up the roads, consume ever more oil, pump ever more exhaust into the air, and make your drive home even longer and more frustrating than it already is."
  • The Daily Tar Heel: "The Triangle has to decide what sort of future it wants for itself as it grows and develops. Should it eschew transit and rely on cars and roads, potentially risking becoming a congested mess? Or should it plan for the future by embracing the need for improved transit options at the cost of a slightly higher tax rate? The answer is clear. The small tax increase — which amounts to an extra nickel on a $10 purchase — is worth it."
  • The Independent Weekly: "Getting cars off the road and people into buses and trains is important not only to ease traffic congestion but to improve the region's air quality. That's why we're saying vote FOR on a half-cent sales tax to fund expanded bus and light rail investments in Orange County. Durham County voters passed a similar measure last year."
In addition, many prominent community organizations have endorsed the referendum as well, including:
I am aware of only one organization which has decided to oppose the transit referendum: The Orange County Republican Party. In addition, Orange County Voice has a chair who has loudly voiced her opposition to the transit referendum, including here on OP, but the organization's newsletter did not directly endorse voting one way or the other. Meanwhile, the support column is gaining ground every day.
Local leaders have weighed in as well. To date, District 2 County Commissioner Earl McKee is the only elected official I am aware of who has been actively campaigning against the referendum.  While I believe some of the points he's been making are not factually accurate, to his credit he has been consistent in his opposition throughout this year. Meanwhile, here's a sample of what everyone else is saying:
Our General Assembly Members: 
"I am a strong supporter of transportation solutions that will relieve the increasing congestion problems in our area. I feel that we should vote for the half cent sales tax so that solution can come about." - Ellie Kinnaird, NC State Senator

"North Carolinians of several generations have been working to expand transit throughout the Triangle and the Piedmont and to D.C. It’s time we did out part to make it a reality. Vote YES on the transit tax. Let’s catch up with Charlotte." - Verla Insko, NC State Representative
Our Mayors: 
"The transit ballot referendum during this year’s election is crucial to reducing congestion and maintaining the quality of life and livability that makes Chapel Hill unique among American cities.  The transit tax will enhance bus hours, provide for a 17 mile light rail line between downtown Durham and the southern part of UNC’s campus, provide additional park and ride lots, and fund a commuter rail station in Hillsborough.  Vote ‘Yes’ on the ‘One-Half Percent Local Sales and Use Tax’ on the back of this year’s ballot.  This transit referendum will provide us with the necessary infrastructure to meet the growing needs of our community and maintain our quality of life for future generations in our community." - Mark Kleinschmidt, Mayor of Chapel Hill

"Orange County Voters: After 20 years of planning, this November we get to vote on bringing Light Rail and expanded bus service to the Triangle. Please join me in voting FOR the 1/2 cent sales tax referendum!"  - Mark Chilton, Mayor of Carrboro

"The funding directly benefits folks in the greater Hillsborough area by supporting additional bus service and the Amtrak station, and benefits everyone in the county as an investment in managing our future growth. Flip your ballot and vote yes for transit." – Tom Stevens, Mayor of Hillsborough 

Our County Commissioners:
"Transit is the infrastructure for our future.  It will help foster a positive business climate and it will provide an affordable alternative to cars." – Bernadette Pelissier, Chair, Orange County Board of Commissioners 

"Help Orange County prepare for growth, protect our environment, and enhance economic development.  Vote ‘Yes’ for the 1/2 cent sales and use tax for transit." - Valerie Foushee, Orange County Board of Commissioners

"Regional planning and long-range vision are essential to the well-being of Orange County and its residents. As a member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, I've been proud to foster such linkages, including work on a robust public transit system that will better serve our internal needs and connect us to neighboring jurisdictions. I support the referendum on transit funding because its success means improved access to employment, retail, and cultural opportunities, to reducing traffic impacts, and to an easier path for those who don't want or can't afford cars to remain integral parts of our community." - Barry Jacobs, Orange County Board of Commissioners 
"The main reason for voters to support the transit referendum is to provide a rail connection from UNC and Chapel Hill to Duke and other destinations in Durham." - Alice Gordon, Orange County Board of Commissioners

Our Chapel Hill Town Council Members:
"Public transportation in America is a vital resource, and is key to a strong economy and a clean environment. The future transit plan will create a link between all the communities of Orange County, providing residents with affordable access to the places they live, work, learn and play. We should not delay our vote to support the light rail and bus rapid transit system. If we plan on moving economic development forward, we must have a 21st century transit system in place." - Penny Rich, Chapel Hill Town Council
"Transit it vital to our region to manage our growth. Now is the time to invest and plan for our future. I'm voting for the transit referendum." - Lee Storrow, Chapel Hill Town Council 
"Every time I drive up MLK Blvd at 5:30 pm and wait through 4 or 5 light cycles to get through the intersection at Estes, I think about how our town is growing generally and we really cannot accommodate much more automobile traffic in the future. Transit is our future." - Laurin Easthom, Chapel Hill Town Council 

"This transit plan is not the only answer, but it is an important part of the answer, just like our economic development plan, our educational system, and how we develop our land over the next 50 years. We are supporting these things now to create the future we desire – walkable, livable, sustainable." - Donna Bell, Chapel Hill Town Council
Our Carrboro Aldermen: 
"Passage of the transit tax will benefit the county as a whole – by helping our county’s workforce and other passengers move around efficiently, by informing our long-term land use planning, by helping us to avoid sprawl and create well-placed economic development opportunities, and by reducing our carbon emissions." - Lydia Lavelle, Carrboro Board of Aldermen

"I support the transit referendum because it will provide increased bus service and transit improvements in a time when folks are struggling to fill gas tanks due to economic challenges. Transit enhancements will provide an opportunity for more people to be less dependent on their vehicles which is not only good for our environment but for people wanting to travel more easily to the places where they live and work.  In addition, transit makes sense for our progressive community as we expect growth in the future we need to meet growth with sensible solutions and enhancements that make our community more livable." - Michelle Johnson, Carrboro Board of Aldermen

"The transit referendum is a no-brainer, combined with high density land use corridors it puts us on track away from outdated modes of transportation that are causal to climate change." - Sammy Slade, Carrboro Board of Aldermen

"Increased transit funding is essential to limit land disturbance for roads and parking lots, decrease carbon emissions, and, quite simply, to efficiently get tens thousands of people where they need to go each day. Please join me in voting for the Orange County transit referendum." - Dan Coleman, Carrboro Board of Aldermen 



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That was a great summary of the proposed transit sales tax. I hope everyone will support it. Loren

This is another opposition website:  They make a compelling argument, and, I fully agree with them.

It's pretty predictable that Republicans oppose the transit referendum, but I'm pretty surprised to see erstwhile progressives Julie McClintock and Bonnie Hauser among their leadership.And how disingenuous is it of this group to call themselves transit advocates? I mean, really?

Julie has always been very dubious about bringing LRT into Chapel Hill. Even in the '90s, her preference was for BRT.

I didn't see an argument on this site, just a restating of the facts as they interpret them.From reading all the anti-transit tax tracts, it seems that their central claim is that the tax goes mostly to increasing regional transportation, rather than just transportation within Orange County. But, isn't the purpose of a regional transit plan to benefit the region, not just a specific county? And, in Orange County, isn't the population base--by design--in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, which will benefit from light rail?  I can see why people living in rural areas might vote against the transit tax, even if it will benefit them too, both through increased transit access and the reduction of urban sprawl. But, I've yet to read a good argument against the tax from the perspective of someone who lives in Carrboro or Chapel Hill. 

I live in Chapel Hill Twp.Passing a local feel-good yet regressive tax is one bad un-progressive idea, seeing that it won't actually even fund but a fraction of the cost of this unnecessary pork-laden project is another, and then soberly considering the ACTUAL fiscal impact is ... well, sobering: of (almost) every stripe, but especially those on the political Left, continue at all levels of government to be extrordinarily poor stewards of fiscal reality.  You'd think with all the smart people around here, we'd be at the vanguard of the reversal that will surely come. Alas, the opposite seems to be true. You don't really think this whole boondoggle will be paid for by a half-cent sales tax increase, do you? Now, a bit of information that will help you to understand how pointless 'public transit' will eventually become... Motor vehicle technology advances, many already in the mass market, will converge within the next 10-15 years to substantially eliminate traffic woes.  This progress will dovetail well with the phased conversion from liquid petroleum powered vehcles to CNG fueled ones.  The then freed-up traffic lanes will then allow autonomous analogs to what we now call 'buses' for those who choose to not own their own vehicles.  These multipassenger electric vehicles will be much like the urban trolleys of the past, but with route flexibility that no LRT could ever hope to meet, and with 1/10th the infrastructure costs.I make my living working on some of the key underpinning technologies for these advances.  They aren't secret.  Surely, by now, you have heard of at least SOME of these developments?Voters, before you commit generations of people's fortune into wasteful project such as this one, tune into what's actually happening out there in the halls of innovation instead of listening to the nattering nabobs of negativism.  It's actually a bright future.  That is, of course, if the government (at every level) can stay out of the way of letting it get here.I have a hunch that sending government even more money won't help. And, I fear this post will fall primarily on the deaf ears of those whose minds are already made up.

The technology right around the corner in personal automobile transport will save us......just like it always has.   Nothing like making sure there's a giant, expensive, natural-resouce-hogging hunk of metal for person in the world, burning a different, but still carbon-belching fossil fuel. That'll surely solve all of our problems.

Vehicle technology advances that will reduce the number of vehicles on the road?Autonomous analog units using the magically vacated lanes?An apparently unending supply of natutal gas (fracking squared) to allow us to expand sprawl development?These may not be secrets, but it's safe to say that nobody from the tech priesthood stepped forward to make this case to voters.

It's all true. I saw it on the Jetson's 40 years ago

That was my favorite part.

Since posting this, I've learned of two additional organizations who have decided to endorse voting for the transit referendum: The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, and the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange, and Chatham Counties.  And how fitting that these two should come in back-to-back: One organization working to preserve our past, and another working to build our future, and both committed to supporting this transit plan as a way to do that.From Britney Wallace, HBADOC President (italics are mine):

Our expression of support for this referendum is based on our faith that regional leaders will invest these funds with the care our overall fiscal situation demands. This is a chance to make public investments that will benefit those who must rely on transit and benefit the economic engine that drives our region.  Transit is such a long range issue that we have to start to build it before the need is critical.  Waiting risks the future of our region.

The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, which is the umbrella organization made up by The Hillsborough Arts Council, Historic Hillsborough Commission, Historical Foundation of Hillsborough and Orange County, Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce, Hillsborough Historic District Commission,  and the Preservation Fund of Hillsborough, had this to say:

Public investment in expanded rural, county and city bus service, construction of light rail, and an Amtrak train station in Hillsborough will provide additional ways for visitors to reach our town. It will also create jobs and spur economic development in Orange County while also providing low-cost, convenient, and reliable transportation options for workers. It will also have important environmental benefits for the entire region by reducing pollution, preserving habitats, and cleaning up our air and water.Durham County overwhelmingly voted “yes” this past fall to approve a non-regressive tax that will fund expanded bus service, light rail between Chapel Hill and downtown Durham, and commuter rail between Durham and Raleigh. Making a similar investment in public transportation will reflect Orange County’s identity as a progressive, forward-thinking community where people want to study, work, and live. 

I have their full statement as a pdf, available here.

Snark, snark, snark. Why does any offer of a differing opinion have to bring out these kinds of responses? We can disagree without being demeaning.If anyone wants to know about the LP vehicles (LP is considered an alternative fuel), here are some details: like a positive technology move to me, but I don't see how it offers a replacement for mass transit. Transit acknowledges the need to move mass numbers at the lowest possible impact on the environment, costs, and the roadways. I don't think we will ever eliminate the need for single-occupancy vehicles but for those that simply cannot or will not use transit, we need to find alternative fuels. But I just don't see this as an either/or proposition.

Terri The juvenile responses were not unexpected.  Too bad the posters are so enamored of their own misguided opinions that they weren't able to engage in any meaningful dialogue on issues I raised, such as, say, the economic wisdom of betting on the Feds to cover the cost of their ridiculous trains in the future, when we today already borrow 40 cents of every dollar spent by Washington.  Or other issues, such as, how the foreign corporate suppliers of these transit systems (Siemens, Hitachi, Bombardier) pay for all the lobbyists in D.C.  Or, how local Lefties can so easily dismiss their flagrant hypocrisy and offer and promote such a regressive tax.Meantime, a brief attempt at using Google would have been easier than finding a 1957 magazine picture.Like, um, this: costs ... You certainly have seen the Zipcars around campus.  In the future, most urban drivers won't own cars ... they will choose not to buy them, as I mentioned ... but will sign up for shared-vehicle plans (of which Zipcar is but one early example) not unlike how one signs up now for cell phone plans.  You can make book that the big car companies will solve the traffic problem because if they don't, their market will crumble.  It's already well on the way to being real, and the developments are not unreported in the media.  No mass transit technology can replace the route flexibility required by our society and which is provided today by conventional automobiles, and in the future will be provided by variants on a similar theme; again, all of the needed fundamental advancements are readily avalable in mass market cars, today.I have 32 years of industry experience, have founded a company with a successful venture-capital exit, and hold 25 awarded US Patents, among other qualifications for being where I am on this.  I'll not worry about schoolyard-bully taunts from the local peanut gallery, especially since I was just responding to a legitimate question.  I'm grateful that at least one person in the local self-described 'progressive' community is willing to keep an open mind. Steve  

Steve, sorry for the snark. I certainly respect your scientific knowledge. I have a different view of the future.-Gerry

I don't doubt that impressive technology for personal automobiles exists, and I'm glad we're continuing to make progress on that front. I should have made it clearer that I'm not questioning that part of your claim. What I doubt is its affordability, widespread adoption, or ability to make a meaningful impact at the scale of public transit. After all, even flying personal vehicles exist; they just aren't practical or affordable. And with the rest of the world scrambling to adopt personal vehicles at an astounding rate, I don't see the likelihood of seeing many of these advances being implemented in places that still allow two-stroke cars.I also don't see a massive conversion happening here any time soon. I own a 2010 model year car that'll hopefully still be on the road in twenty years, even if it's in someone elses' hands if I'm able to go car-free by then. I don't see it easily converting to compressed natural gas or gaining an auto-driving computer; even if it becomes technically feasible, that doesn't make it affordable. I can barely afford to make upgrades like patching a leaky tire. Like a lot of people, I don't want to drive or maintain a vehicle: my wife and I pay almost as much in transportation costs as we pay in rent. I look forward to a future where relying solely on public transit is a viable option.I also worry a lot about the assumption that owning a personal vehicle is a "choice" since for many, many people, it's an unaffordable luxury. The average purchase price of a new car crept over $30,000 this year; the average annual cost of ownership of a car is almost $9,000, or almost $7,000 even for a small sedan. Yet income disparity is rising, and if current trends continue the average purchase price of a car will exceed the average annual income in just a few short years. We need options other than personal vehicles. Car sharing is great, but even that is out of reach financially for a lot of people, and does little to serve many of those with disabilities or outside of driving age.Perhaps my skepticism of the costs and widespread adoption of new vehicle technology would be less if I weren't frequently told that the costs of  such advanced technology as "multistory parking" were way more than most developers can afford. I'm still not sure where the cars of the future are going to park, since we can't seem to find a place to put the cars of today.But that brings us to the real issue. It's not just about the vehicles themselves, it's about changing land use patterns. It's about adopting technology that encourages us to build dense, compact, environmentally sound mixed-use buildings and reinvigorating our urban areas, so that we can leave as many of our rural areas as we can untouched, and ideally, revert them to their natural land cover or see them used as working farmland. The car is not the enemy so much as the suburban sprawl that the car enables. I want light rail, because it encourages dense transit nodes that allow people to live, work, shop, and play all at one location without using any vehicle, by capturing trips before they occur. And this density allows for less water and energy consumption as well, because multifamily homes are inherently more efficient. According to HUD, the average housing unit in a single family home uses 66% more energy than the multifamily unit. Substatial energy improvements remain even if you correct for household size. If we want to have any sort of meaningful impact on global climate change, we need to not just stop doing terrible things to our planet, but undo some of the damage we've already done.

My main point was: if there's this big body of persuasive info that anyone can understand, why has it not been presented during the months leading up to this vote.


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