Opinion

Light rail is the right investment for fast-growing Chapel Hill-Durham area – Jeff Mann

Jeff Mann
Jeff Mann

The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project represents a large community investment, but the potential rewards for our fast-growing area are substantial as well.

The project will reliably connect Chapel Hill, Durham and residents of surrounding communities to jobs and education, medical facilities and commercial and entertainment centers and will allow focused development around stations so that the counties can accommodate the growth they are expecting over the next 50 years.

Decision-makers will determine whether the project continues to be a principal priority for the region when they vote in the following weeks whether to approve updated transit plans, which advance the 17.7-mile light-rail project to the next phase of development. We at GoTriangle are working with other local staffs to provide the most up-to-date and accurate information to those representing the community we serve.

Orange and Durham voters decided to invest in the light-rail project when they approved half-cent sales taxes devoted to transit. The rail system is projected to cost $2.4 billion to build in year of expenditure dollars, and $3.3 billion including all finance charges through 2062.

Over the same period, dedicated transit revenues from the half-cent sales tax and vehicle registration fees that are already in place are projected to total $5.3 billion. This figure does not include federal and state funds or fare revenues.

The current plan anticipates that the federal government will pay 50 percent of the cost to build the project, with local governments contributing 40 percent and the state contribution expected to be 10 percent. The amount of GoTriangle’s projected borrowing necessary to build the project increased after the state legislature capped the amount of money available for light-rail and commuter rail projects. Based on current projections, no additional tax revenue or other new fees will be needed.

When considering the community investment into the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project, we must also recognize the many benefits the project will bring. The light-rail line will offer a more predictable, congestion-free trip for commuters. It will connect Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding residents and visitors with three of the top 10 employers in the state, three major universities and the medical centers at UNC, Duke and the Durham VA. New development around the planned light-rail stations is projected to create tens of thousands of jobs and add $175 million annually in state and local tax revenue.

The bus and light-rail services in the updated transit plans of Durham and Orange counties address a mobility problem that will become only worse as our region continues to rapidly grow. We want to be able to look back at this moment knowing that we had the vision and commitment to invest in the sustainable future and quality of life of all citizens of the Triangle.

Jeff Mann is the general manager at GoTriangle.

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