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The Daily Tar Heel

After NCDOT made cuts, the Town looks for other ways to fund Chapel Hill Transit

Transit Budget Cuts
The North Carolina Department of Transportation made budget cuts to the State's Maintenance Assistance Program (SMAP), which the Chapel Hill Transit relies on, reducing more than 23% of payment to CHT in 2019. Resolution of the budget cuts is geared towards demonstrating the dependency of the community on the free transportation system.

A resolution that supports increased funding for transit passed unanimously at the Chapel Hill Town Council's April 10 meeting.

The resolution is in response to significant cuts made by the N.C. Department of Transportation to the State Maintenance Assistance Program, from which Chapel Hill Transit and other transit systems in the state receive funding.

The resolution noted that NCDOT’s SMAP payments to the Chapel Hill Transit reduced by more than 23 percent from fiscal year 2018 to 2019.

Karen Stegman, a Town Council member that worked with the mayor’s office on the resolution, said the Strategic Transportation Investments program, a state policy that funds transportation projects, has designated more funding to highway projects than others.

“NCDOT has implemented the policy so that only about 6 percent of transportation funding goes to projects other than highways (that means ferries, aviation, buses, trains, light rail, bike and pedestrian facilities),” Stegman said in an email. “As a result, lots of these modes are severely underfunded.”

She said funding more highway projects encourages “poor land use, long commutes and a car-dependent life style," which will raise problems of climate change, citizens’ health and economic development.

“Cutting funds devoted to transit is taking us in exactly the wrong direction,” she said.

She added that costs of maintaining vehicle conditions and talented operators have also increased.

Brian Litchfield, director of CHT, said the department has taken measures in the past fiscal year to make up the gap through collecting funds from local funding partners — the University, the Town of Chapel Hill and the Town of Carrboro — and delaying capital purchases like buses.

“If that continues in future years, we may have to think differently about how to do that,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough to be able to do that for one year. It would be challenging, very challenging, to make that up over the next several years if we had to.”

Litchfield said if more funding were available, CHT would make investments in new and even electric buses and improve its service.

“I think there is a number of improvements that could be made through our community, that will be better identified by our Short Range Transit Plan and our bicycle and pedestrian plans that we just don’t have funding to currently implement,” he said.

With the resolution's passage, the Town Council requests that NCDOT modify its policies to provide increased funding to transit through SMAP and the STI funds.

Stegman said the Town is also working with local legislators to try to increase funding for SMAP in future years.

“A proposed bill introduced in the North Carolina House, House Bill 666, would reverse the reduction in SMAP funding that has already taken place and provide much-needed funds to support Chapel Hill Transit,” she said.

Litchfield said the resolution demonstrates the commitment of the council and CHT’s funding partners to build a high-quality transit system. He said it indicates continued interest in making improvements in not only transit, but also bicycle and pedestrian infrastructures.


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