Orange County voters approve the transit sales tax

November 8, 2012 at 7:02 am

One of the victories coming out of Tuesday’s election was the passage of a 1/2-cent sales tax in Orange County, which will pay for improved bus service and new light-rail connecting Chapel Hill and Durham. It will not apply to gas, food, medicine, health care, or housing costs. Investing in public transportation will reduce congestion, but also encourage more dense development and will be an economic development asset for the future.

This is a big step forward toward more transit-oriented development in the triangle region. As the region continues to grow rapidly, it is important that measures are taken now to accommodate the increase in traffic and vehicle emissions. As Progressive Pulse points out, “accessible and affordable transportation creates healthy, connected neighborhoods by improving access to employment, education, and social opportunities—a win for both residents and local businesses.”

Opponents of the measure raised some important issues, however. There is a concern about the accessibility of the new transit system, particularly for low-income and rural residents. According to preliminary plans, the 17.3-mile light-rail project will not connect to the rural arts of Orange and Durham Counties. It is unclear if the expanded bus service will like those areas to the new light-rail system. Either way, Orange County’s rural communities are not hopeful– all of the rural precincts voted against it.

Likewise, lower-income residents, who use public transit the most, should be ensured access to the new system. On the other hand, new transit can bring about significant changes to neighborhoods, like increased housing costs and other signs of gentrification. Cross-cutting policies for housing and transit are needed to make sure that lower-income areas of Orange and Durham Counties have proper access without pricing out their residents.

Despite these concerns, the vote to invest in the area’s infrastructure is a positive step toward more sustainable development in the Triangle.  But being engaged on civic issues should not begin and end at the voting booth. Now that the measure has been passed, it is up to those same voters to hold the decision-makers in each county accountable. Hopefully, this new investment in our state’s infrastructure will be a benefit to the residents of Orange and Durham Counties, and serve as a catalyst for more such investments across the state.

Entry filed under: Economic Development, Transportation. Tags: , .

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