County commissioners approve Durham-Orange Light Rail Project

Commissioners met Thursday night in Hillsborough to discuss the final draft and address community concerns.

Durham and Orange counties are home to 20 new residents daily, with Wake County having 60 new residents. The light rail transit plans for Durham, Orange and Wake Counties aim to bring these communities together with the development of mobility, geographic equity, job opportunities and the positive environmental impact.

The Board of Commissioners reviewed the draft for the light rail cost and transit plan at the April 20 work session. With the board’s feedback, the final draft was prepared for Thursday’s meeting.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs responded to concerns that if money is spent on this project, it will be diverted from schools.

“By law we can’t switch it one way or the other,” he said. “Transit money is transit money.”

Jacobs also brought up the misconception that the cost of the project has increased dramatically. He said the project is still affordable because they weren’t including interest and loans.

Commissioner Penny Rich opposed the criticism that UNC isn’t contributing to the project.

“When we hear that UNC is not doing their share, that’s certainly not true,” she said.

The final draft details the amount of funding each county will provide for the project. By the end of the debt repayment, Orange County will pay 19 percent of the operating cost, while Durham County will pay 81 percent.

The financial plan has been revised to include the cost of an administrator for the transit plans and a short range Bus Planning Study in Orange County. It has also corrected the amount for bus operations and maintenance. This balances to a minimum of $15.39 million after construction in 2030.

Commissioner Renee Price said that the project is economically and socially unviable.

“Hundreds upon hundreds of voters have opposed the light rail, and on my vote, they will be known,” Price said.

With a decrease in funding on a state and federal level, the transit plan relies on tax revenue, while being conscious of the risks that come with large transit investments.

Commissioner Earl McKee asked that the board delay the decision until the language of arbitration and mitigation is changed.

He made the motion to reject the transit plan and the cost share agreement; both failed 5-2.

Commissioner Mark Dorosin clarified that Orange and Durham Counties have been working together and are not against each other.

Rich made the motion to approve the Orange County Transit Plan, which passed 5-2.

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