State lawmakers in North Carolina launched a sneak attack this week on plans for light rail between Durham and Orange County — and nobody’s sure exactly who’s behind it or why they did it.
Leaders in Durham and Orange are counting on the state to deliver about 10 percent of the funding for the $1.5 billion, 17-mile line, which would connect the booming area between Durham and Chapel Hill. But North Carolina residents learned this week that the state budget compromise between the House and Senate includes a new provision that would outlaw directing more than $500,000 in state funds to a light rail project. Lawmakers never openly debated the provision.
The move was sudden and unexpected. “Nobody knew about it, and bang – it was there,” said Ron Tober, a retired transit executive who lives in the state. “It’s a fairly dramatic event that has occurred.”
Voters in Durham and Orange counties have approved a half-cent sales tax to fund the light-rail project. The plan also called for $138 million from the state, with federal funding to close the gap.
Just this week, the Federal Transit Administration awarded $1.7 million to GoTriangle to plan transit-oriented development around the stations. Project leaders recently completed a draft environmental impact statement and were preparing to approach the federal government for funds to begin the engineering phase.