At the end of the 2015 NCGA legislative session, a provision was written into the final biennial budget that would cap state investment in any light rail project at $500,000. This is bad news for our state, for our urban areas, for congestion relief and it goes against the spirit of the Strategic Transportation Investment Law (STI).
STI, passed in 2013, sought to remove politics from transportation funding decisions. Rather than base multi-billion dollar transportation funding decisions on lobbyists and “pork” projects, STI relies on data-driven scoring and local input to determine what projects get funding through the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).
If the tenets of STI are observed, transportation projects that score high would move forward AND low-scoring projects would not receive funding. However, this arbitrary $500,000 cap sends the signal that STI can be disregarded at any time. High-scoring projects, like the Durham-Orange light rail, can be pulled out of STI funding and projects that don’t meet the STI criteria can still receive funding. Back to politics as usual.
Why it Matters
The Durham-Orange light rail project scored a 56.84 under the Strategic Mobility Formula, identifying it as a critical infrastructure investment of regional importance. Capping the state share of light rail funding essentially kills this project because the state investment is critical to obtaining the much larger federal funding component. Federal funding only occurs when there is a state+local funding “match.” Citizens in areas like Mecklenburg, Orange and Durham counties have repeatedly shown their desire for light rail service by approving local sales taxes to fund their share of the cost. With a cap of $500 million on state funds, it will be virtually impossible to get the Durham-Orange line, or other new projects, started.
Take Action Now
This situation can be fixed in the short legislative session and the spirit of STI preserved. Take a moment to send a message to your state legislators and help preserve the option of light rail for communities who support it.