Let the project die
An open letter to N.C. Sen. Foushee and Reps. Insko and Meyer:
As you know, I am a long-time public transportation advocate who opposes Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit (DOLRT). In that context, I respectfully ask that you please not use Orange County’s limited political capital to protect DOLRT. It is time to finally let the project die so that our transportation resources can finally focus on much needed, high-quality public transportation for Orange County and the region. Here are just a few of my concerns:
Since its inception in 2012, DOLRT project costs have ballooned from $1.4 billion to $3.3 billion – which includes nearly $1 billion in debt payments. At the same time, the burden on Orange and Durham counties has increased from $350 million to $1.8 billion. and will tie up local transportation dollars for decades.
DOLRT only serves UNC and downtown Durham. Orange County has already cut 25 percent of expected new bus service, and delayed most of the rest in order to push DOLRT through the state’s funding process. While I’m not especially pleased with the politics surrounding your budget; I’m equally troubled by the local political antics of delaying important regional transportation projects in order to push DOLRT to the front of the line. Either way, if the legislature is committed to good public transportation and an objective process, blocking special interests behind DOLRT seems like a good place to start.
DOLRT poses untenable financial risks to Orange County citizens which our commissioners have not addressed. The DOLRT project plan relies on a projected sales tax growth of 3.7 percent a year compounded. Orange County now projects its sales tax growth at 2.4 percent. That's 35 percent less than GoTriangle’s estimate and could create an enormous funding shortfall which will fall to Orange County taxpayers. That’s in addition to rising costs for local transportation services provided by Chapel Hill Transit and Orange Public Transit.
The recent weighted vote by the D-CH MPO demonstrated that Orange County no longer has a voice in this project or transportation for the region. Orange County commissioners are helpless to protect the interests of Orange County citizens, especially in situations where our interests do not align with Durham County.
If you decide to advocate for the interests of the citizens of Orange County and the state of North Carolina, please focus on items that have widespread benefit. Start with school buildings and teacher pay, environmental protections, and healthcare (including Medicaid expansion and mental health). Access to health care and internet in rural areas is of particular interest that could find bipartisan support.
Thank you for your service to Orange County and to the state of North Carolina.
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