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The Daily Tar Heel

Orange County Commissioners put light rail proposal on hold

Plans for a regional light rail connecting Orange and Durham counties have been put on hold for now.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners has postponed putting a half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot Nov. 8, which was proposed to finance the light rail.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs said another increase — a quarter-cent sales tax that would create revenue for local schools and economic growth — took priority over the half-cent sales tax.

“We are focused on passing the quarter-cent first,” Jacobs said.
The board, unwilling to overwhelm voters with multiple tax increases, will discuss putting the half-cent increase on the ballot next year, Jacobs said.

Orange County commissioners are also waiting to see how a similar half-cent tax will fare in Durham County elections.

Orange County Board of Commissioners discussed a regional and local transportation plan between Orange and Durham counties in April.
A proposed light rail — an urban railway that uses trolley cars — was one component.

But County Manager Frank Clifton said Orange County will not move forward with plans for a light rail until Durham County approves its portion of the light rail’s funding.

Durham’s half-cent tax would generate funding for light rail construction by 2024.

“Without Durham County’s approval of the light rail, Orange County’s plan lacks feasibility,” Clifton said.
Commissioner Earl McKee said he questions the light rail’s practicality in Orange County.

“We do not have the dense urban areas to create a sustainable demand for light rail,” he said.

But Jacobs said the light rail would connect residents to centers of commerce in the Triangle.

But he said the board has other plans to improve public transportation in Orange County, including new and expanded bus routes.

While these plans have flexible funding options, the board isn’t considering any other funding option for the light rail.

“If we want to do the light rail component, there is no way we can do it without the half-cent sales tax increase,” said Commissioner Chairwoman Bernadette Pelissier.

She said the transit plan is still developing.

“It’s a work in progress,” Jacobs said. “We are not ready to make a proposal to the voters.”

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