By Rose Laudicina
After months of lengthy discussion, the Orange County Board of Commissioners adopted both the Transit Interlocal Implementation Agreement and the Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan at its meeting Tuesday night.
Although approval of both plans was far from unanimous, the commissioners had stated in previous meetings that a decision on the transit plans needed to be made in early October so voters would have ample time to review the plans before voting on a half-cent transit tax that will appear on the ballot in November.
However, Commissioner Earl McKee, who voted against both plans along with Commissioner Steve Yuhasz, said he felt his fellow commissioners were rushing to make a decision based on a fake deadline and urged them to postpone voting until their next regular meeting.
After being presented with final changes to the Transit Interlocal Implementation Agreement plan, McKee also said he felt that issues were still not resolved between all the parties involved.
â€œIâ€™m getting an uncomfortable feeling that all these issues are not all worked out,â€ McKee said. â€œWe are asking the taxpayers of Orange County to obligate themselves, their children and grandchildren for a tax that weâ€™re sitting here trying to piece-meal together and approve in a rush.â€
â€œThis is getting crazier all the time, folks.â€
While McKee felt uneasy about the way the information in the plan was presented, all the transit partners involved â€“ Triangle Transit, Chapel Hill Transit and the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) â€“ assured the board that they were in agreement with the plan as presented and the changes that the board issued.
â€œWhat you see here is two things,â€ said Chapel Hill Transit director Steve Spade. â€œOne is something that we can support and [two] is that we have a common understanding of this.â€
â€œWe are comfortable with the language in here, and we are in agreement on this.â€
The approved Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan includes expanded bus hours and services to be implemented within the next five years by CHT, Triangle Transit and Orange County; route enhancements along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; an Amtrak station in Hillsborough; and a light-rail line that would connect UNC Hospitals to Alston Avenue in Durham by 2026.
The light-rail line would be funded by a combination of federal, state and local dollars, with Orange Countyâ€™s share coming from increased vehicle registration fees and, if approved by voters, the half-cent transit tax.
â€œI think the investment in light rail is a mistake,â€ Yuhasz said. â€œI thought it was a mistake from the beginning and I continue to think itâ€™s a mistake.â€
Details for funding service costs for CHT and Orange County Public Transit (OPT) were also approved at the meeting as part of the Transit Interlocal Implementation Agreement. The agreement states that a portion of a new $7 vehicle registration fee increase may be used to cover service inflation costs for CHT and OPT.
â€œThis is a very difficult issue for us to grapple with,â€ board Chair Bernadette Pelissier said. â€œWe may not be in 100 percent agreement, but now we all understand.â€
The MPO Transit Advisory Committee is expected to release a preferred transportation plan alternative for public comment at its meeting on Wednesday.