JLF Triangle Blog

Transit Tax Hike Passes In Orange County, And For What?

Orange County progressives have once again dominated the political landscape. Despite data showing that light rail is an expensive and poor transportation tool for a low-density, urban-suburban community such as the Triangle, Orange County voters approved a half-cent transit tax by 59 to 41 percent.

Since Durham County voters have already passed the tax hike, the firewall against this misguided policy is Wake County, where the Board of Commissioners rightly is asking many questions about the plan’s effectiveness and cost.

Here’s what JLF’s former research director, Michael Sanera, wrote about the plan a few weeks ago:

A draft plan written by the area’s transit and regional planning agencies provides glowing verbiage about rail transit’s benefits. “These investments would positively impact traffic congestion,” it proclaims.

But promises of a “positive impact” on congestion have not panned out in other cities that have wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on rail transit. Of the 33 U.S. cities with some form of rail transit, only six account for more than 1 percent of the passenger miles traveled in the region, and 22 carry less than one-half of 1 percent. Does Orange County want to be like San Jose, where rail makes up 0.42 percent of passenger miles traveled? How about Denver (0.44 percent) or Dallas (0.26 percent)?

And what about the cost? Sanera lays out the facts.

Orange County rail transit supporters argue that state and federal taxpayers will pick up 75 percent of the construction costs. In today’s political climate, that is a very risky bet. The U.S. House opposes funding additional rail projects; a recent compromise transportation bill included funding — with tighter eligibility standards — only because of the Senate’s demands. 

Given the new standards, Orange County’s size and population density, and the project’s cost, it is unlikely federal funds would be forthcoming. State funds are also questionable. The General Assembly is looking long and hard at funding rail projects, especially as unemployment remains high and state budget dollars scarce. 

Thanks, but no thanks.

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