– by Joe Milazzo II, PE, RTA Executive Director
RTA members and partners,
We want to provide you with the RTA perspective on several transportation-related portions of the state budget, as approved yesterday by the NC Senate and under consideration by the NC House this evening, as well as some observations for our transit future.
The Regional Transportation Alliance business coalition applauds two vital provisions in the state budget.
- The incorporation of a balanced access and user fee-based funding approach by raising and indexing DMV fees while lowering the motor fuels tax is one of the most welcome developments for transportation funding in years. We have previously thanked the legislature for their leadership on this issue and continue to do so.
- The expansion of opportunities to study turnpike projects will create new options for accelerating congestion relief via this proven user-fee based approach. We have one of the most technologically advanced turnpikes in America and this provision will build on that success.
The RTA offers the following observations on the funding cap for light rail included in the state budget:
- We have supported the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) legislation since its 2013 approval, and we honored legislative leaders at our 12th Annual Meeting for this historic achievement in reforming and modernizing funding allocations.
- The strength of STI is its data-driven approachthat allows projects to rigorously compete for funding under an agreed upon set of criteria, applied across three geographic tiers.
- The half-million dollar light rail funding cap, which will curtail or eliminatethe ability for such transit projects to compete for state funding under STI, is a major policy change and one that deserves a broader, legislative committee-based review and vetting in order to maintain support for and confidence in STI.
- The proposed Durham-Orange light rail project as currently envisioned may be stymied by the state funding cap. We recognize that the funding cap may be a response to the high cost of the proposed light rail investment and/or the impact on other potential transit projects in the region or state. The reality is that any major transit investment in the existing high transit usage Durham-Orange corridor would have significant costs and funding requirements while providing substantial regional benefits both now and as we grow, by connecting several major employers and universities, ensuring reliable travel time and focusing land use at key locations.
Regardless of any legislative funding provision, our growing region will still require a high-capacity, robust regional transit connection between Durham and Chapel Hill, and the Regional Transportation Alliance business coalition will continue to work with all stakeholders until such a connection is fully secured and funded.
We also recognize that the proposed Durham-Orange light rail project is currently slated to consume 100% of available regional level state funding for transit infrastructure for decades in our area. This is due to not only the cost of the project but also the existing STI transit funding cap as well as STI funding policies. These and other transit policy areas can be revisited in an expedited future bill. Such a bill could repeal or at least substantially increase the light rail funding cap to maximize rigorous competition among transit projects and advance high quality regional transit solutions for our entire market.
RTA encourages the consideration of transit approaches across our market that will accelerate strong regional connectivity. RTA has endorsed dual use of portions of the proposed Durham-Orange light rail corridor by “interlining” buses. We observed dual use operation during our visit to the Seattle bus-rail transit tunnel last year; dual use here would enable travelers to/from Carrboro, downtown Chapel Hill, southern Durham/Southpoint, RTP, RDU, Wake County, etc. to take advantage of portions of a dedicated transitway corridor.
We cannot leave our regional transit future to unexpected changes or limitations in state funding, or federal funding for that matter. The regional business community applauds the prior leadership of the voters and elected officials in Durham and Orange counties for their affirmative referendum votes earlier this decade, we look forward to a successful transit referendum vote in Wake County next year, and we remain focused on identifying and accelerating the implementation of vital transit connections across our entire region.
Please let me know if you have questions on the above – thank you for your commitment to regional mobility.
Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director