One of the main components of the plan is the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project, and residents came out in force on both sides of the issue. Residents who supported the light rail cited expansion of transit options and economic development.
“The light rail system is vital to the long-term development of this region,” said John Hammond, a Chapel Hill resident and UNC professor emeritus. “I urge you to be visionary and take the first steps in moving transportation from the Eisenhower era of the 1950s into the future.
UNC Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Matt Fajack said the University continues to support the project.
“This plan is about the next 30 years and beyond,” he said. “We need to keep and maintain the vision we had for our county.”
Fajack said the county faces a choice between being integrated into the regional economy or becoming disconnected.
“If we don’t do the light rail project, I believe we risk becoming an economic desert,” he said.
UNC senior Josh Mayo, also a longtime resident of Orange County, said transit is vital to students.
“Sixteen thousand people come to campus every day,” he said. “There are nowhere near 16,000 parking spots on campus.”
Mayo said the light rail would help to provide dependable transit to campus. He also said students are contributing to the funding of the project just like residents.
“We’re paying the sales tax just like everyone else,” he said. “When we go out on Franklin to eat a piece of pizza, we pay that sales tax.”
Those against the project mainly cited concerns with the costs of the program.
The funding structure of the project has changed since 2012. State law now caps the level of state funding of light rail projects at 10 percent of the total cost of the project. This has forced local governments to make up the difference.
“Please don’t continue spending our taxpayer money on this unaffordable system,” resident Maria de Bruyn said. “It won’t even be available until 2029 or later if there are construction delays. Please fund more transit for all of Orange County.”
Resident Desiree Goldman said she supports public transit but she’s a pragmatist and the costs of light rail are too high for her to support the project. She also said the plan wouldn’t help social issues.
“The plan also deepens the rural-urban divide in our county,” she said. “This is something I find very concerning with our current political state.”
Resident Kimberly Brewer said she couldn’t support the project for several reasons including cost. One reason she spoke against the project was the proposed route.
“It really doesn’t go to the places where many people want to go,” she said. “The University and hospital can be served by buses and bus rapid transit.”