Mayors endorse light-rail project
The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project is essential to our future for a variety of reasons, including keeping our community an environmentally healthy and economically vibrant anchor of the Triangle metropolitan area.
Over the past 50 years, our community has repeatedly decided to invest in public transportation. This began with Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee’s creation of the bus system in the early 1970s, and Carrboro Mayor Robert Drakeford’s persistent efforts to extend the system, which has grown into the robust network today that carries almost 7 million riders each year.
It required vision and commitment to start and sustain this public transportation system. The vision began with a sense of community, and this is what sustains the vision today. Think about how those seven million riders would get around today without our public transportation system:
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What would the roads look like? There would be more of them, they would be wider, and they would be more crowded.
What would our community look like? There would be more paved parking lots, fewer trees and less green space.
Public transportation shapes our daily lives in ways that are sometimes invisible. For example, in the middle of downtown Chapel Hill – which has far more people, stores, and restaurants today than it did 20 years ago – there are 25 percent fewer cars today than there were 20 years ago. Likewise, even as Carrboro’s population has increased by nearly one-third over the past 20 years, average daily traffic on downtown streets has stayed roughly the same.
Public transportation brings environmental benefits and contributes to social justice goals. While the towns in Orange County have grown, the pollution and frustration of traffic congestion have been reduced; in addition, the county has maintained environmental benefits such as the rural buffer and watershed protection. Social justice goals are served because mobility is the single strongest factor contributing to economic advancement for low-wealth families.
The economic benefit of public transit is illustrated by the seamless integration of the county’s largest institution into the community. UNC is a partner in financing Chapel Hill Transit, and the system serves UNC Health Care staff, patients and visitors. The university recognizes that public transit is essential to the campus and hospitals.
All of this background informs the decision our community confronts today: should we invest in the first leg of a Triangle-wide light-rail public transportation system?
We believe the answer is an emphatic yes. Our county leaders have negotiated an equitable cost-sharing agreement, and in return we can expect significant community-wide benefits. Just look at the enthusiastic support for the project from Clean Air Carolina, the Sierra Club, and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, all of which endorse the plan because it “yields significant environmental benefits,” assists low-wealth families “by enhancing transportation options and access,” and “boosts economic development.”
Orange County as we know it today came about through many decisions over the years. None have been more important than decisions about transportation. The right decision today for our future is supporting the light rail plan. We enthusiastically support it – and urge our commissioners to support it too.
Carrboro Mayors Lydia Lavelle, Mark Chilton, Mike Nelson and Ellie Kinnaird
Chapel Hill Mayors Mark Kleinschmidt, Kevin Foy, Rosemary Waldorf, Ken Broun and Howard Lee
Reversing the juggernaut
I wholeheartedly urge the Orange County Commissioners voting to continue to support the Durham to Chapel Hill light-rail project. It is the indispensible instrument to bring about a more dense, compact, land- and energy-conserving urban form, to begin to arrest and curtail planet-destroying dependence on the automobile.
While this initial light-rail project does not reach many who currently would like such an option, once this system is in place, along with the proposed Durham-Raleigh commuter rail system, it will operate to concentrate much of the future growth of the region along these already built-upon corridors instead of sprawling more automobile-dependent, suburban fabric farther out into green fields, forests and farmland.
This is the most important objective for making these huge investments. It is not about us nearly as much as it is about those who will come after, about there being a livable future for our children and their children. Both of these rail projects are keys for getting started on a path to a survivable, resilient, sustainable future. This was supposed to happen in the late 1990s. It wouldn’t even be necessary if, a century ago, the up-and-coming petroleum and automobile companies had not manipulated to bring about the removal of existing urban trolley systems.
We and the generations who will follow us are already paying every day for the folly of the decisions that brought us the dominant dispersed form of development. The price being quoted to begin to reverse the juggernaut seems cheap, really, and it is mighty disappointing to me that there seem to be so many well-off “progressives” who don’t want to tithe to reduce humanity’s heavy footprint on the region and the planet. I, too regret the trains won’t go to the airport, come to downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro in these first steps, but if we don’t start somewhere it will never happen.
A well thought-out plan
Do you know that the Orange County Transit Plan includes more than just light rail? I recently went to a very informative public workshop and came away with exciting news about current transit options and future plans.
Do you know that Orange County provides door-to-door public transportation for anyone age 60-plus and disabled residents for medical appointments and shopping? And that we have bus service from Cedar Grove to Chapel Hill? And service to northwestern, northeastern and southern Orange County, as well as to Mebane and Efland?
Do you know that the plan includes project development for bus rapid transit from Eubanks Road to Southern Village? And that more bus routes are planned, as well as additional service on existing bus routes? And, that the light-rail stations will serve as hubs for new bus service?
Also, that the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit would free up funds from the current bus service on that corridor? And that light rail is expected to generate new jobs in station areas, increasing both GDP and tax revenue? And that many sources of funds are being considered to implement the Orange County Transit Plan, as well as various cost-cutting options, if needed?
This appears to be a very well thought-out plan, with various modes of transit for the varied needs of Orange County.
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