The Durham County commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to sign a non-binding letter agreeing to help find up to $135 million more in local funding for the $1.87 billion Durham-Orange Light Rail Project.
In April, the board will be asked to signal its support again as GoTriangle prepares to spend $60 million to $70 million on engineering work on the project. Durham and Orange County governments will be asked to make binding commitments in June 2018.
Under a motion proposed Monday night by Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, the Durham County commissioners will get a report by April 1 that will cover:
▪ The impact of local light-rail spending on the county’s finances and ability to pay for other long-term needs.
▪ The impact of the increased cost on implementing other parts of the bus and rail investment plan that Durham County adopted in 2011. This issue will include talking with the Orange County commissioners, who want to renegotiate the cost split between the two counties.
▪ The expected development potential and associated tax revenue around light-rail transit stations in Durham County.
▪ The amount of private, in-kind donations of land and other private financial support that can reasonably be expected.
▪ The impact of annual operating and maintenance costs for the light rail transit and bus service, and the revenue sources that will be used to cover those costs.
Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs and other elected leaders said they hope the required updates will bring more transparency to the project.
“I think that this really addresses a lot of important issues for us to move forward in a responsible way in terms of us doing our due diligence,” Jacobs said.
GoTriangle officials requested the letter as they try to fill a $254 million funding gap for the 17.5-mile line from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to N.C. Central University.
Initially the light-rail plan called for the state covering 25 percent of the cost or $467 million. The legislature has since capped state support of such projects at 10 percent.
As a result, GoTriangle asked Orange County to help find up to $40 million more in local funding and Durham County to help find up to $135 million. The money would be paid over a 10-year period. Orange commissioners also approved a letter of intent earlier this month.
Durham city officials also expect to help cover Durham County’s increased commitment. The City Council plans to vote on a letter of support next week.
On Monday Reckhow, Jacobs and Commissioner Heidi Carter said light-rail would connect households without cars to jobs and provide transportation options as Durham’s population grows an estimated 50 percent in the next 25 years.
“I also feel like we never talk about the cost of congestion,” Carter said, and its impact on lost time and productivity.
Commissioner Brenda Howerton said funding for light rail, not support for it, is the concern.
“I think that is the major concern for everyone,” Howerton said, “is how it is going to happen.”
The Durham City Council plans to consider a approving a letter committing to work with Durham County to identify additional local funding for the project. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday in Council Chambers at 101 City Hall Plaza.