Orange County transit plan changes increase its ?exibility

Orange County moved one step closer to the future of its transportation services Tuesday.

In a heated meeting, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 to move forward with the Transit Interlocal Implementation Agreement — but not before making changes to parts of the plan.

The plan, which would expand transit services in the county, includes the construction of a light rail and expansion of bus services.

Much of the discussion focused on recent changes to the agreement’s language.

A rule was removed that would have allowed Orange County transit services to use up to 50 percent of funds for existing transit projects instead of for expanding new services.

But some commissioners worry that a large proportion of funds might still end up being used on existing projects because the board did not approve a rule to replace the 50 percent cap.

“I think we’ve just spent this whole hour making it so that all of the money can be spent on existing services,” said Commissioner Steve Yuhasz, who voted against the changes to the plan.

Commissioner Earl McKee, who also voted against the changes, voiced his concerns about the plan.

“I do not understand how that can even begin to approach transparency,” he said, adding that the board was pushing the plan forward too quickly.

“We are working on a plan that will be carried by our children and grandchildren that we are trying to piecemeal together here,” he said. “This is getting crazier all the time, folks.”

The meeting was not the first time the plan has caused controversy — Chapel Hill Transit has objected to the plan in the past.

Chapel Hill Transit leaders want more funds to be put aside to cover existing transit services.

Part of the funding for the plan would come from a proposed half-cent sales tax increase in Orange County, which county residents will vote on in November.

Other sources of revenue for the plan include new vehicle registration fees.

As it stands, Chapel Hill Transit would get 64 percent of revenues from the plan — up to $720,000 of which will be set aside for existing services.

Triangle Transit Authority would get 24 percent of revenues, and Orange Public Transit would get the remaining 12 percent.

Steve Spade, director of Chapel Hill Transit, said he was glad the plan allowed individual transit services to determine the use of funds.

“I appreciate the attempt to craft this language,” Spade said. “As it was in part in response to us saying we need more flexibility.”

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