You'll recall that, last year, the Durham to Orange Light Rail Transit project was derailed by a sneaky, last-minute provision
inserted into the state budget that capped state spending on light-rail projects at $500,000. The D-O LRT funding plan called for the state to contribute $400 million. Because of the way the budget process works, it's difficult to know who was responsible for slipping the provision into the budget, and because the Republican leadership is spineless and secretive, not a single GOP official stepped forward to claim authorship of it. Democracy, baby!
Some Republicans, including Gov. Pat McCrory (who pushed for light rail as mayor of Charlotte and seems to be generally supportive of D-O LRT) subsequently urged the legislature to remove the cap in the short session, which is currently underway. In crafting the new budget these last few weeks, the $500,000 cap has been cut. But Republicans have also re-emphasized a piece of existing language that caps spending on light rail and commuter rail at ten percent of the total project cost.
The total project cost of D-O LRT is $1.6 billion. That means the state could only chip in $160 million. Which means funding at the state level is once again facing a massive shortfall, this time of about $240 million.
What's more, D-O LRT would have to restart the scoring process by which transportation projects compete for state funding, even though it was already approved for funding. This would delay the project by at least another two years.
Jeff Mann, general manager of GoTriangle, says the organization is "disappointed by the new, restrictive light rail and commuter rail provisions inserted this legislative session that compromise the integrity of the data-driven transportation funding law passed in 2013, and create new funding and delivery challenges for the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project (DOLRT)."
Mann continues: "GoTriangle is currently evaluating all options and we will continue working with Durham and Orange County residents, our partners and the General Assembly to identify funding for the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project."
The budget is expected to land on McCrory's desk by the end of the week, likely with the ten-percent cap inside it.
Look for a more in-depth look at light rail in tomorrow's issue of the INDY