The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday June 4th

Plans for Orange County light rail still undecided

Some of the benefits of a light rail are connectivity between neighborhoods, job opportunities, health care and education.

Jeffrey Sullivan, public involvement associate at GoTriangle, Orange County’s public transportation service, said steps are being taken to make sure a light rail project wouldn’t add too much noise or disrupt trails and parks in the area.

“Projects like this are often something that a community struggles to relate to — you have a lot of people who’ve been in cities with light rail or been somewhere that has a really good transit system and they get it,” he said. “Then you have people who have never seen it and it’s a very new thing to digest.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said there will be a meeting Friday to discuss financing the project.

“Light rail is one of the most efficient ways to move people,” Hemminger said. “We have an extremely incredible amount of people working at universities and hospitals. It also works for the town of Chapel Hill citizens.”

She is working with GoTriangle to connect residents of Chapel Hill to the light rail who don’t necessarily have a connection to UNC’s campus.

“It’s got great potential, but we need it to work for everybody,” she said.

The final materials are being prepared for the Federal Transit Administration to start the engineering process for the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project.

Sullivan said the engineering phase is a three-year process that finalizes design and prepares for the construction of the project. He said ideally, the engineering process would begin March 2017.

The project will take about 10 years to be completed.

The financial plan previously included 50 percent federal funding, 25 percent local funding and 25 percent state funding, Sullivan said. The local funding comes from a half cent sales tax in Orange and Durham counties.

Sullivan said funding changes at the state level now mean the project can now only receive 10 percent of its total funding from the state government. Friday’s meeting will seek to make up the difference in funding.

Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs said the light rail would make it easier for people to commute and would lower pollution from congestion on the highway.

Not all county commissioners are on board with the project. Earl McKee, chairperson of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, has opposed the project for six years. He said the transportation money from the sales tax would be better used for infrastructure before moving toward a regional system.

He said he has concerns about the light rail technology aging and being inflexible to change. He also said he was concerned about the feasibility of paying for the $1.6 billion project, especially with the shortfall from the state government.



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