Here is an early look at the full version of a guest column running in Sunday's Chapel Hill News. Please tell us if you support the half-cent sales tax for mass transit at firstname.lastname@example.org or below (with your name if you'd like your comments published in the newspaper.). Thanks.
By Bejamin Haven and James Carnahan
Orange County has a clear and urgent need for the additional transit services that would be funded by the half-cent sales tax now under consideration by the County Commissioners for a fall referendum.
Whether you live in town or a rural area, we all have an obligation to create a sustainable legacy for those who will come after us – to curtail our carbon footprint, establish a resilient economy and make Orange County affordable to a diverse population. Public transit is an indispensible tool for achieving these goals.
The Piedmont is still growing at an extraordinary pace; the Triangle Region alone is expected to add more than one million people over the next 20 years [U.S. Census]. By 2030, an additional 40,000 people are projected to make their home in Orange County [NC Office of State Budget, Planning, and Management]. This growth will tax our transportation infrastructure, contributing to longer traffic delays and more carbon emissions. Already, the Triangle wastes 12.7 million gallons of fuel annually due to congestion [Texas Transportation Institute]. We can’t continue to rely on fossil fuels and sprawl-oriented development patterns, and our current transportation system is inadequate for the population boom that we face. It’s time to invest in a real transit plan to meet our current and future needs.
The added half-cent sales tax would specifically fund public transportation. The Federal Government will not kick in matching funds to get transit projects off the ground unless Orange County can prove that it is capable of raising capital to finance part of these ventures. In other words, we will not see transit improvements, including bus service expansion, a light rail line from UNC Hospitals to Downtown Durham, or a Hillsborough Intercity rail station, unless we get this tax referendum on the ballot and passed by a simple voting majority.
Durham is already on board, putting a similar referendum on the ballot and voting to fund transit last year. However, they can’t do it alone, and a potential light rail line connecting Orange County to Durham depends on us sharing in the cost. It’s time for Orange County, too, to invest in transit to support the future health of our community.