NC budget battle over light funding for light rail

RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) — State Democrats say they’re concerned about a provision in the budget compromise plan released this week that could endanger a planned rail project in the Triangle.

The Durham-Orange Light Rail Project has been in the works for years with a targeted start date of service in the middle of the next decade.

A provision in the proposed budget would cap state spending on light rail at $500,000 per project. That’s significantly less than what planners say they need from the state. They say they need the state to cover about one-quarter of the total price tag, which is estimated at $1.6 billion. The federal government would cover half, while local taxpayers would fund the remaining one-quarter.

“These are devastating provisions. They will basically make it impossible to build a light rail system between Durham and Chapel Hill. Some of these have been on the drawing boards for years,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham/Granville).

Jeff Mann, the general manager of GoTriangle, says he was surprised by the provision because it hadn’t been in previous versions of the budget.

“$500,000 is not a lot of money,” said Mann. “Right now we’re just continuing to seek state funding for the project. We believe it’s the best solution for the Durham-Orange corridor. It’s a very important project. It serves two major universities, two major employers.”

Planners say with increasing growth in the community, the project could help people who are already facing long commutes.

Vanessa Garcia says she takes three different buses, making her ride about an hour-and-a-half.

“I think it actually would be pretty cool if we had that because I feel like it would be a faster way to travel,” said Garcia.

Republican legislative leaders say rail projects were not as high of a priority in the budget as road and bridge work.

“We’re not going to spend a lot of additional state money just for people’s nostalgic view of how they enjoyed trains in their youth,” said Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake).

GoTriangle is hosting a series of public meetings on the proposed rail project.

The next one is Saturday, September 16 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Durham Station Transportation Center, which is located at 515 W. Pettigrew St. in Durham.

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