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Commissioners approve transit plan, in principle

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer
Before Triangle Transit even had an opportunity to present an updated transit plan to the Orange County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, a motion was made to postpone making a decision on the plan.

Commissioner Earl McKee made a motion that was seconded by Commissioner Steve Yuhasz to postpone the decision because the commissioners received the plan late Monday afternoon, leaving what McKee felt was an inadequate amount of time to review the information.

However, the motion failed 5-2, as the other commissioners said they felt discussions had been going on long enough about transit, and that it was time to start making decisions.

“I just don’t know how much longer we can continue to delay a decision on this,” Commissioner Valerie Foushee said. “I think we need to do this sooner rather than later if we are going to do it at all.”

After a lengthy discussion among the commissioners, Triangle Transit representatives, the county manager and the county attorney, the commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the transit plan “in principle and contingent on approval of an implementation agreement between Orange County and Triangle Transit.”

Commissioners Alice Gordon, Yuhasz and McKee voted against the motion.

“We may be enduring the process, but the people of Orange County are going to endure the cost,” McKee said. “If we do not look at it seriously and consider it, we are doing a disservice to the citizens of Orange County.”

Initially, Gordon, a strong proponent of the plan who has been working to bring it to fruition for many years, voted against McKee and Yuhasz on postponing a decision. However, after noting multiple errors in the plan and some additions to the document, Gordon said that for transparency reasons she felt she had to vote against it.

“It may very well be that you feel like you are just seeing some of this information,” David King, CEO and general manager of Triangle Transit, said, “but I can guarantee that 95 percent of this you have seen before.”

The transit plan includes expanded bus hours and service provided by Chapel Hill Transit, TTA and Orange County; route enhancements along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; a Hillsborough train station; and light rail that would connect UNC Hospitals to Alston Avenue in Durham.

In addition to adopting the transit plan, the board approved, 5-2, a cost-sharing agreement with Durham, with McKee and Yuhasz dissenting.

The cost-sharing agreement says funding for the light rail will by paid 50 percent by the federal government, 25 percent by the state and 25 percent by the local governments, which will be split between Durham and Orange counties. Orange County would pay for 4/17 of the capital cost for the light rail since four of the 17 stations are located in the county.

The commissioners also voted 6-1, with McKee dissenting, to approve a do-not-levy agreement with TTA that states TTA will not levy a half-cent tax in Orange County unless a resolution is made by the commissioners to do so.

The board will revisit the finalized transit plan and vote on putting a transit-tax referendum on the November ballot on June 5.

“This has been a long process; for whatever reason, this has neither been a smooth or clear process,” Commissioner Barry Jacobs said, “but the train needs to leave the station. It is time to move forward.”

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