Published: Nov 28, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 28, 2012 02:52 PM
Durham County commissioners have paved the way for an April 1 start date of a 1/2-cent sales tax for transit, including a light rail line between Durham and Chapel Hill.
The commissioners were waiting to levy the tax that Durham voters approved in a referendum last year until a neighboring county was on board with the $1.4 billion plan as well.
Orange County voters approved a similar referendum last month, so the commissioners moved ahead Monday, voting 5-0 to ask the Triangle Transit to levy the tax. The Orange County commissioners are expected to approve a similar measure Dec. 1.
The tax (5 cents on most $10 purchases) would not apply to gas, food, medicine, health care or housing costs.
“I think it’s important for our citizens to know they will begin to see transit improvements in the near term,” Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said, of planned bus service improvements.
The benefits of the transit tax can already be seen with development the future light rail line has attracted to the Ninth Street area, she added.
Triangle Transit CEO and General Manager David King compared implementing the tax to building Research Triangle Park, RDU Airport and the N.C. Railroad.
Too many people don’t understand the difference between public investment that will pay back the people and other taxation, he said.
“Investment is the key word,” King said.
Community activist Mike Shiflett, who worked to pass the referendum in Durham County, compared the impact to Duke University moving to Durham. He said he has seen traffic grow on Interstate 40 in his 25 years living in the region and that the only way to ease the congestion is mass transit.
Commissioner Philip Cousin noted that he was on the board in 2006 when the transit plan was first proposed, and said it felt good to be there Monday for this vote.
Durham and Orange are moving ahead without Wake County. Wake has not finalized its part of the regional plan or its connections with Durham, and its commissioners decided against holding a sales tax referendum this year.
The light rail plan winds from the Alston Avenue/N.C. Central University area to UNC Hospitals. Stops in Durham would include downtown, Duke Medical Center, Ninth Street, Dillard Street, Buchanan Boulevard, LaSalle Street, South Square, Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, and Patterson Place.
The plan won more than 60 percent approval in Durham County and 59 percent in Orange.