GoTriangle officials clarified last week how they are combining projected rising sales tax revenues, local dollars, and public and private resources to meet an increased local share of the $1.87 billion Durham-Orange light rail plan.
The project faces federal and state challenges, they said.
The federal challenge stems from a change in when Federal Transit Administration money could be paid toward the 17-mile light-rail line from Chapel Hill to Durham, they said. The route is expected to connect UNC, Duke University and, now, N.C. Central University.
GoTriangle had anticipated $125 million in annual FTA installments over eight years, based on other projects. However, the FTA notified local officials in October that annual installments would be $100 million over 10 years because of the number of projects seeking money.
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The change does not affect the 50 percent share that GoTriangle can expect the FTA to pay if the Durham-Orange Light-Rail Project is approved, GoTriangle spokesman Mike Charbonneau said, but more local money will be needed by 2020 to cover construction costs until the federal reimbursements catch up.
The plan also estimated initially that the state would pick up 25 percent of the light-rail cost – or $467 million – based on Charlotte’s light-rail project. When the legislature decided this year to pay only 10 percent, or $187 million, it left the local partners responsible for 40 percent of the cost instead of 25 percent.
GoTriangle had some extra money available from half-cent transit sales tax that Durham and Orange voters approved in 2011 and 2012, Charbonneau said, and they looked at different ways to finance some parts of the project. That narrowed the local shortfall from about $280 million to $254 million.
Durham and Orange counties have been asked to tentatively commit to finding the bulk of the $254 million – $135 million over 10 years from Durham County and $40 million over 10 years from Orange County. GoTriangle will meet with Durham commissioners Nov. 29 and with Orange commissioners Dec. 5.
The counties will get updated transit and financial plans in April, GoTriangle officials said. They will have to formally decide whether to commit any additional local funds or stop the project by June 2018.
GoTriangle also will ask the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization on Dec. 14 to commit $20 million of its federal dollars over 10 years. The remaining $59 million could be realized through cost-cutting or donations of money or land for the rail line right of way, GoTriangle officials said.
GoTriangle also has been working for three months with a Funding and Community Collaborative of university, government and private individuals to look for alternative funding sources and land that might be donated for the light-rail line.
The timing is critical, GoTriangle officials said, because the FTA’s deadline for applying to enter the light-rail engineering phase is Dec. 31. The application must include commitments for at least 30 percent of the local and state cost. A missed deadline could set the project behind and put federal dollars at risk.
“I think taxpayers need to understand that until all of that work is done, and we know what the actual gap is after what’s been made up by the Funding Community Collaborative effort, then that’s what the conversation will be with Durham and Orange County down the line,” Charbonneau said.
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