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Orange County contract spells out responsibilities, costs of bus and rail improvements

A map shows how the Durham-Orange light rail, the Durham-Wake commuter rail, and Chapel Hill and Wake County bus-rapid transit projects would link together to form a regional transit network.
A map shows how the Durham-Orange light rail, the Durham-Wake commuter rail, and Chapel Hill and Wake County bus-rapid transit projects would link together to form a regional transit network. Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization

Editor’s note: This story was published originally on Oct. 28, 2012. Some details about the Durham-Orange light-rail train have changed in that time, including the Interlocal Implementation Agreement, which was updated in April 2017.

A contract signed in October 2012 — the Interlocal Implementation Agreement — lays out the roles and responsibilities for building the Orange County part of the regional bus and rail system.

While Triangle Transit (now GoTriangle) will manage the regional plan, it will share responsibility with the Orange County commissioners and the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization for deciding how the Orange County portion of the plan could be changed or revised. Big changes will take a unanimous vote; smaller changes will be handled by the county, DCHC-MPO and Triangle Transit managers.

Each partner will have two representatives, who will review the Orange County plan’s progress every four years and adjust it to reflect changing circumstances. After eight years, the group will revise the transit plan if state or federal funding isn’t available for the light-rail system. Light-rail construction tentatively could start in 2020 with a launch date in 2026.

The contract also spells out how each transit agency — Triangle Transit, Chapel Hill Transit and Orange Public Transportation — will share available revenue.

Each must use its existing resources to maintain the same level of funding that paid for local services in August 2009. However, a last-minute change gives local agencies flexibility in extreme circumstances, such as a sudden increase in fuel costs or if UNC reduced its support for some CHT routes.

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The change allows an agency to ask the group to use new tax and fee revenues to cover existing services. How much would depend on the agency’s percentage of local expenses and the previous year’s vehicle fee revenues.

In 2016, for example, the $7 increase in local vehicle registration fees could generate roughly $800,000. CHT’s share of that year’s expenses would be roughly 92 percent — its expenses divided by the sum of those expenses and OPT’s expenses. That means CHT could request up to $736,000 to support existing services.

The change appears to contradict state legislation that allowed Triangle governments to seek the sales tax and vehicle registration fee increase. It says local transit agencies must continue current funding and use the new money only for added services.

Gulley said the plan does not violate the state’s rule against supplanting — or replacing — current funding, because the agencies can’t pay less than they did in 2009. But it’s better to limit new services in hard times rather than cut an agency’s core services, he said.

Orange County Commissioner Steve Yuhasz disagrees and said the change removes protections for Orange County residents. He worries funding will be diverted from regional transportation to local systems, primarily Chapel Hill Transit, he said.

Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.


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