Editorials

Lift the cap on the state’s light-rail funding

A concept illustration of a Durham-Orange Light Rail train at a station in downtown Durham near the Durham Street.
A concept illustration of a Durham-Orange Light Rail train at a station in downtown Durham near the Durham Street. Courtesy of GoTriangle

Putting a $500,000 cap on funding for light rail seemed a strange maneuver by Republican lawmakers last year. Now there’s a proposal to lift that cap. Let’s hope it – and rational transportation planning – prevails.

Orange, Durham and Wake counties are trying to put together a light-rail system that would boost business development and recruitment but also be a blessing to commuters and others trying to get to such common destinations as Duke and UNC hospitals. I-40 at rush hour is becoming more of a crush hour.

The light-rail funding cap canceled the state’s commitment to provide $138 million for the planned $1.5 billion Durham-Orange light-rail line. It was another slap at cities, which have fared poorly under the GOP-dominated General Assembly. But it’s a slap that hurts the entire state. Lift the cap and let the nation’s ninth-largest state get rolling toward a level of mass transit already common in other large states.

The 17-mile Durham-Orange line would connect UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill with Duke and VA medical centers and downtown Durham. Ideally, such a line could be a model for expanded service between all Triangle counties and it would be especially beneficial to Research Triangle Park.

This is not a partisan issue. It’s an issue, in fact, that should appeal to Republican lawmakers because it could make this region, and those regions adjacent to it, more attractive to businesses looking to expand or relocate. And there are examples – Portland, Oregon, being a notable one – where light rail has worked well.

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