Transportation advisers expect to vote Wednesday morning on their favored route for a light-rail line between Chapel Hill and Durham, but the Orange County commissioners could throw in a complication with vote of their own tonight.
Triangle Transit and elected officials in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham favor a route that follows N.C. 54 part of the way east from Chapel Hill and then follows either of two ways north to U.S. 15-501.
Some Orange County commissioners, though, as well as County Manager Frank Clifton, have said they want a third route added to the mix – one that skips N.C. 54 and runs along 15-501 instead. That route was previously considered and dropped from the discussion.
They are expected to vote tonight whether to make that part of their official position that Commissioner Alice Gordon takes to Wednesday's meeting of the transportation committee of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization.
"This is coming up here at the 11th hour?" said Durham City Councilman Mike Woodard, a member of the MPO's Transportation Advisory Committee. "Where have they been for the last four years?"
Triangle Transit spokesman Brad Schulz said that, if Orange County's alternative delays the committee's decision on a "locally preferred alternative," the application process for getting federal funding for the light-rail project could be delayed for more than a year.
Transportation Advisory Committee Chairwoman Lydia Lavelle, a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, said a delay is unlikely.
Lavelle said none of the other governing bodies involved have expressed any interest in revisiting the 15-501 route, and expects the other representatives will vote to recommend the two routes including N.C. 54.
"I haven't heard any kind of discussion to indicate anything else," Lavelle said this afternoon.
The other jurisdictions would still have a job ahead, Woodard said, to convince Orange County to put a half-cent transit sales tax up for a public referendum. Durham County voters approved a tax last fall, but it will not be levied unless Orange and/or Wake county approve a similar tax.
Orange County officials have expressed skepticism about the light rail's value to the county at large, since it would only serve a corridor from UNC Hospitals to the Durham County line. The overall regional transit plan, though, does provide for improved bus service throughout all three counties.