Smart Transit for Orange County writes:
Smart Transit for Orange County is asking voters to vote “NO” (AGAINST) the transit tax so that a better plan can be developed. The diverse group of pro-transit leaders from the towns and the county who joined together to oppose the transit tax referendum said the tax increase would authorize a plan that over-emphasizes light rail transit (LRT) at the expense of a frequent, reliable bus system that truly serves the towns and the county. Once built, light rail cannot be shifted to accommodate changing commuter and user patterns.
If the tax fails in November, planners will be forced to come up with a plan that better fits the needs of the county. The tax can be brought back on a later ballot.
The tax referendum has received little fact-based reporting from the press, partly because the details of the complex plan weren’t finalized until early October – just a week or so before the polls opened for early voting. Many voters don’t know that there even is a plan, and believe they are voting for or against transit in principle.
The major issues raised by the group are:
• Fixed LRT doesn’t fit changing local demographics and commuter patterns. UNC’s campuses and health-care facilities are decentralizing, and increasingly, commuters are coming from Chatham and Mebane. Growth projections ignore the growing senior population and changes due to cyber commuting.
• Transit priorities for bus service and the Amtrak station in Hillsborough are shortchanged by the huge investment in LRT. The plan devotes nearly 75% of the county’s transit dollars to a four-mile light rail segment from UNC Hospital along east NC 54. The segment completes a 17-mile line to Duke Medical Center and on to Alston Avenue and is estimated to cost Orange County taxpayers $1.4 billion.
• The plan provides no direct service to RDU, RTP or Raleigh. Wake County has not discussed or agreed to the plan at all.
• The plan overlooks emerging technologies such as Bus Rapid Transit – which qualifies for the same grant funds as LRT and can provide integrated transit service throughout the county at a fraction of the cost.
Triangle Transit Authority and associated government agencies need to go back to the drawing board. Convenient, reliable and widespread bus service that targets population centers and economic development areas is essential to building ridership and encouraging people to leave their cars at home. A flexible, frequent and extensive bus service, along with bike lanes and sidewalks, might meet the needs of workers and students better than LRT and be less costly per rider. Good transit is non-partisan. It’s hard to understand why Orange County voters are being asked to fund a plan that’s clearly designed to benefit Durham and the universities. A “no” vote now buys the time to make a better transit future for Orange County.
Smart Transit for Orange County is committed to working with leaders to develop plans. The group includes former Town Council member Julie McClintock, GOP leader Bob Randall, Chapel Hill Realtor Mark Zimmerman, Efland businessman Greg Andrews and Maple View’s Bob Nutter working side by side with town advocates Will Raymond and Marty Mandel, rural advocates Bonnie Hauser and Tony Blake, Southern Triangle’s Jeanne Brown and Hillsborough resident and county commissioner candidate Mary Carter.
To learn more about the plan and the tax, visit the Smart Transit for Orangewebsite, http://transitfororangecounty.wordpress.com/, and Facebook page, “Smart Transit for Orange County,” or contact:
Tony Blake (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mary Carter (email@example.com)
Bonnie Hauser (bonnie@OrangeCountyVoice.org)
Will Raymond (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Del Snow (email@example.com)