Statement from Orange County Board of Commissioners concerning the North Carolina state budget language that could eliminate state and federal funding for the Durham-Orange Light Rail project

ORANGE COUNTY (June 5, 2018) -- The Durham-Orange Light Rail Project was endorsed by county voters in 2011 and 2012. In April of 2017, the County Commissioners of Durham and Orange County, along with Go Triangle, agreed to a cost-share agreement that allowed the project to move forward to the design and engineering phase. Along the way, it twice received high scores from the NCDOT as well as the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Currently about half of the design and engineering work has been done and the project is on schedule to qualify for and receive a 50% share of project costs from the federal government.

We are disappointed that, after clearing multiple hurdles in an understandable, data-driven, non-political process, the North Carolina State Legislature has included language in its current budget that would prevent the project from meeting federal guidelines, effectively terminating the project. The language provides that state funding would not be released until all other funding sources, including federal, have been secured. The FTA requires that all other funding sources be secured before it releases funds.

If the intent of the legislation is to ensure that no state funds are spent before the federal funds are granted, which is a reasonable requirement on behalf of the taxpayers of our state, a revision to the wording of the budget in a technical corrections bill can clarify that matter and allow the project to proceed.

The cost-share agreement provides that if either the state or federal funding is not forthcoming, the parties to the agreement must meet and confer to modify the agreement.

The Orange County Commissioners pledged at the beginning of this process that we would not spend more than the $149.5 million that we committed in the cost share agreement. As we consider the prospect of having to rework the cost-share agreement, we want to reassure the residents of Orange County that we remain committed to this spending limitation.