Durham Passes Transit Tax; Is Wake Next?

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On Tuesday Durham residents agreed to a half-cent sales tax increase that would fund improvements in its transit system including increased bus service and plans for future rail service.

The vote, which passed by 60 percent, could be an indicator of how the same proposal might fare in Wake County. Wake Commissioners will have to decide whether to put the transit tax on the ballot for next year’s general election.

There are plans in the works for a commuter rail line running from Johntson County through Wake and Durham counties and into Orange. Wake’s northwest neighbor was the first to signal a go-ahead for the $650 million project.

Learn more about Triangle Transit’s future plans.

If Orange and Wake Counties also approve a half-cent increase, residents can expect increased bus service implemented within five years and the commuter rail soon after, which takes advantage of existing tracks.

Asked how Durham’s vote affects Wake County, County Manager David Cooke said, “I don’t know that it really changes the way we’re approaching it in Wake County.”

County Commissioners are scheduled to hear a transit update during their work session Monday. The presentation will review the costs and components and the bus plan. The next steps would be to make inter-local agreements with the surrounding areas.

Like Durham County, Wake’s core plan would also include increased bus service and commuter rail. Although transit gurus also hope to build light rail in Wake County, Cooke said Wake officials are planning with the assumption that the half-cent increase will not fund that portion.

“This is something where one plus one is more than two,” said Commissioner Erv Portman.  “When you have investments in neighboring communities, it starts to have a synergistic benefit. I think it’s potentially good news.”

Asked if he thought Wake County residents would get on board with a similar tax increase for transit, Portman said that it would depend on the strength of the argument made by the county.

“I don’t think that argument has been articulated yet,” he said. “If the argument is strong then I think they will support it. If it’s not then I don’t think they will.”

Portman said Durham’s approval of the tax will not impact the Wake Commissioners’ schedule. He said the Commission will put the tax on the ballot when it gets a full plan for how the money will be used.

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