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Residents still confused, concerned about transit plans

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

At the first of two public outreach sessions on Orange County’s proposed transit plan, residents called for more time to understand the plan and questioned its benefits for the rural community.

Held during the Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night, the public hearing enabled residents to provide comments, including suggestions for improvement, to the commissioners.

“Our primary goal here is to hear comments on the transit plan from members of the public,” Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said. “Commissioners will address the comments later and modify the plan as needed.”

But some residents said that before they could provide feedback and suggestions, they would have to understand the plan.

“Citizens throughout the county are confused,” Mary Carter told the board. “Before you decide to place another sales tax on the ballot, shouldn’t our citizens be educated about the plan?”
To help fund the transit plan, which includes light rail between Durham and Chapel Hill, improved bus transit around the county and an Amtrak train station in Hillsborough, the commissioners are considering adding a half-cent sales tax to the November ballot.

Durham voters have already approved a sales tax to help fund their portion of the transit plan.

Bonnie Hauser, president of Orange County Voice, asked the commissioners to provide more educational opportunities to the public regarding the plan, adding that she thought the plan was too complicated to be squeezed in between agenda items.

“We have to ask, what’s the rush?” Hauser said. “We believe that citizens would be better served with an informational briefing. We need more time before we can give you constructive input.”

While some residents called for more time to consider the transit plan, others came to the hearing to address concerns about the plan’s benefits to the rural community, which accounts for about 40 percent of Orange County’s population.
Alex Castro, a member of the county’s advisory board on aging, said he was specifically concerned with rural residents older than 65 not being provided with adequate transportation in the current plan.

“This is a significant demographic that needs to be considered in the plan to improve mobility and transit services,” Castro said.

“You have various health providers … building facilities out in the rural community, but how will those elderly get to those services?”

Commissioner Steve Yuhasz agreed with concerns about the proportion of services being allocated to rural areas.

“I would like to see some evidence that the 40 percent of the population in Orange County that resides outside the urban area … will derive some sort of significant benefit from this transportation plan,” Yuhasz said.

After discussing the plan and taking note of the public’s comments, the commissioners agreed that despite the 19 public workshops held by Triangle Transit as the plan was being developed, the public should have additional opportunities to learn about the transit plan.

Two informational meetings, which have yet to be scheduled, will be held in April. At the meetings, multiple representatives with expertise in different areas of transit will be available to speak one on one with residents and answer their questions.

The next public hearing about the transit plan is scheduled for April 17.

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