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Light rail plan stalls along party lines in Wake Co.

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TWC News: Light rail plan stalls along party lines in Wake Co.
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WAKE COUNTY - Light rail could soon be speeding through the Triangle, but the regional transit plan has stalled in Wake County.

Last year, Durham voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for improved regional transportation, including buses and light rail.

Orange County is voting on the same thing in the fall.

Wake county's population is expected to double within the next 20 years, which will likely lead to more traffic tie-ups on area roads and interstates. Some people believe the regional transit plan, including light rail, is the answer.

“We have study after study after study; blue-ribbon panels, regional transit plan, 21st Century transportation committees, Capital Area Transit Plan, Wake County Transit Plan, board of commissioners planning retreats; one study after another with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents,” said Democratic Wake Commissioner Erv Portman, as he dramatically slammed each report down on a table. “Every study has come to the same conclusion. We have to responsibly plan for growth. We have to plan for alternative forms of transportation. That's what the studies keep telling us. Those are not partisan issues.”

But the decision of whether or not to allow Wake County residents to vote on raising the sales tax to pay for transportation improvements is divided along party lines.

With Republicans holding a majority on the board of commissioners, it's gone nowhere fast.

“The next thing [Republicans] are going to do, they're going to call for another study,” Portman said with frustration. “They're going to call for another panel. It's endless. We need to make a decision.”

But Chairman Paul Coble, a Republican, said there's no rush and Wake County needs more time to thoroughly review the plans.

“We're going to look at the plan,” he said. “We're going to study it. But we're going to do it in a deliberate and responsible way so that we make sure we understand exactly what it is we're voting on. If the plan is not financially feasible, we're not even going to take it any further than that. [Light rail] may move people, but financially, it's very difficult to make a case they are financially feasible. Before we straddle the taxpayers of this county with a financial burden, we need to understand what the real costs are going to be and if it takes time to really dig into the numbers and understand, then it's our responsibility to do that.”

Members of the group WakeUP Wake County plan to speak Monday at the Wake County Commissioners' meeting in favor of the transit plan and putting a tax referendum on the ballot in November.

Coble said right now, commissioners are focused on approving a county budget.

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