GoTriangle’s board of trustees approved updated transit plans for Durham and Orange counties today, allowing a proposed light rail transit system connecting the two counties to move forward for federal grant approval.

The Federal Transit Administration had asked GoTriangle, which is heading up the $3.3 billion project, to submit updated transit plans, a cost-split agreement between the counties, and funding commitments by the end of the month in order to move ahead in its request for a New Starts grant that would cover half of the project cost.
GoTriangle expects that 10 percent of the funding will come from the state, with the rest—about $1.9 billion—coming from Durham and Orange counties. The local share will be funded by vehicle registration fees, car rental fees, and a half-cent transit tax, revenues sources that are expected to generate $5.2 billion through 2062. Fare revenue will go toward maintenance of the 17.7-mile system.

Light rail has not escaped opposition, particularly in Orange County, where cash reserves will take a larger hit than in Durham from the expense of building and financing the system. Under a new cost-sharing agreement, Durham will pay 81.5 percent of the local costs and Orange 16.5 percent. The remaining 2 percent is expected to come from land and monetary donations. This ratio was negotiated to protect Orange’s balance, but also because most of the system’s infrastructure is in Durham.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners approved the plan 5–2 Thursday. Commissioners Earl McKee and Renee Price voted against, citing concerns about the financial risks.

Orange County Voice, a grassroots organization opposing light rail, presented a letter to the commissioners with the signatures of more than seventy residents who have concerns about the plan.

“April 27th is Orange County’s last chance to say ‘no’ to this ill-conceived plan,” the letter says. “Any other vote leaves citizens throughout the county with grave concerns about our transit future and the fiscal risks associated with the plan. ”

Durham commissioners signed off on their part Monday.

Construction is expected to begin in 2020 and finish in 2028, with the system becoming operational in 2029.

There are still some unknowns to overcome. GoTriangle needs to secure funding from the state. And while President Donald Trump has vowed to invest in infrastructure, under his 2018 budget proposal, New Starts grants would only be awarded to projects with existing Federal Transit Administration agreements.