Research Triangle Park, NC (May 28, 2018) – Today GoTriangle learned that the revised state budget includes a provision that would negatively affect transit projects in our state.
SECTION 34.7.(a) G.S. 136-189.11 adds a new subsection to read:"(d1) Additional Requirement for High-Cost Projects. – A light rail project is ineligible for scoring, prioritization, and State funding until a written agreement is provided to the Department establishing that all non-State funding necessary to construct the project has been secured."
“We are disappointed by the latest budget language that targets rail transit projects. Durham and Orange counties’ light-rail project has twice received high scores through the data-driven state law designed to take politics out of transportation funding,” said GoTriangle General Manager Jeff Mann. “We are assessing next steps, but the amended budget certainly appears to be detrimental to the light-rail project because federal law requires a commitment of 50 percent in state, local and other funds before the Federal Transit Administration commits the other half for any large transit project in the United States. The light-rail line between Chapel Hill and Durham became eligible for a federal investment of more than $1.2 billion after the FTA approved the project to move into the final design phase last year. Durham and Orange counties have already invested a combined $88 million in voter-approved, transit-dedicated tax dollars to help secure the federal investment.”
Additional information about the project
The light-rail line would run 17.7 miles and have 18 stations including UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill at one end and North Carolina Central University in Durham at the other.
In 2011 and 2012, voters in Durham and Orange counties approved a half-cent sales tax to invest in more frequent and expanded bus service and other projects including the light-rail line. About $88 million of the voter-approved funds have already been spent on the project.
The light-rail project is in the final design or engineering phase and eligible for a federal investment of more than $1.2 billion.
The more than $1.2 billion investment from the Federal Transit Administration is contingent upon the state’s providing up to 10 percent of the project’s funding, with the remaining 40 percent coming from local and private sources including the voter-approved transit-dedicated investment in Durham and Orange counties.
The Federal Transit Administration requires that the local, state and other funding sources be committed before it will award the 50 percent federal portion to large transit projects like light rail.
This project is projected to create and support at least 20,000 jobs and infuse billions into the local and state economies, including $600 million in new yearly GDP for the state and $175 million in new state and local tax revenue each year.
The project will directly connect three of the top 10 employers in the state and provide direct access to the rapidly growing employment center in downtown Durham, where parking is a challenge.
It will provide direct connections to Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and NC Central with additional connections from the light-rail station to Durham Technical Community College.
It will serve major hospitals and medical facilities: UNC, Duke and Durham VA Medical Centers.
Current plans call for construction to begin in 2020, with service starting in 2028.
Manufacturing/ supplier jobs across North Carolina
The light-rail project will also support thousands of existing jobs across the state. Currently, there are 27 major North Carolina businesses that are members of the American Public Transportation Association. These are major suppliers, designers and manufacturers of rail transportation technology across the state that could bid to provide materials for Durham and Orange counties’ light-rail transit project.
The corporations include IMPulse in Mount Olive, Heico in Hickory, Saft America in Valdese, Huesker in Shelby, Tec Tran in Burlington, Cummins Inc. in North Whitakers, Interlogix Global Security in Lincolnton, ABB in Huntersville and Cary, Dialight in Roxboro, Wilmore Electronics Company Inc. in Hillsborough, Wysong in Greensboro and AKG Thermal Systems Inc. in Mebane.
According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, there are more than 600 material vendors in North Carolina involved in the transit manufacturing supply chain.
A history of the light-rail project and state funding
In 2013, the General Assembly passed the Strategic Transportation Investment Law with bipartisan support to allow the North Carolina Department of Transportation to use funding more efficiently and effectively to enhance the state’s infrastructure. The process encourages thinking from a statewide and regional perspective while also providing flexibility to address local needs.
The law created the Strategic Mobility Formula, which uses a data-driven scoring process and local input to determine which projects will get NCDOT investment through the 10-year State Transportation Improvement Program.
The light-rail project scored well the first time it was submitted through the data-driven process, and in 2015 the state programmed $138 million for the first 10 years of the project.
In September 2015, state lawmakers repealed the state funding commitment for the project and amended the STI law to cap state funding for any light-rail project at $500,000.
In June 2016, lawmakers changed the STI law again, removing the $500,000 cap but limiting state funding for any light-rail project to 10 percent of its cost.
In June 2017, the House’s budget proposal sought to eliminate the 10 percent cap, the state Senate didn’t want to make the change, and the final budget left the cap intact for another year.
In spring 2018, the light-rail project again received a high score through the Strategic Mobility Formula created by the STI funding law, making it eligible for state funding of up to 10 percent of the total project cost.