Light Rail Doesn’t Work Here

From North Carolina to California our highways are over capacity and grid-locked.  How did this happen?  The short answer is that, historically, our city councils and town boards have ignored long term road and infrastructure planning while rabidly approving sprawling development. Roads to these communities quickly become parking lots for thousands of frustrated commuters.

I live along one of those overburdened roadways and we are all screaming for relief!  In response, our development-friendly city council realized that they must at least make a token effort to address the associated traffic problems. Their first step is to propose “the plan” for a fix, a light rail system.

Step two is soliciting public comments on their we-know-best proposed transit plan.  It always amazes me how many intelligent experts are part of our community offering innovative, visionary advice—engineers, scientists, statisticians, health care professionals, urban planners, economists, scholars, and most importantly people who care.  But anyone who has participated in these public forums realizes that even the best suggestions are  ignored.

Predictably, our City Council voted to adopt their original doesn’t-help-anything plan to build a 17-mile light rail system, the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Plan (DOLRT), despite overwhelming logical objections.

So, what’s wrong with this plan?

  • There will be over 40 at-grade crossings creating traffic backups, accidents, and air pollution
  • It doesn’t go to popular destinations like: Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Research Triangle Park (main employment center) and Chatham Park (new population center).
  • Route selection and station locations were dictated by politics.
  • Many of the proposed train stations are linked to more development in a transit corridor that reached over capacity for it’s roads, schools and infrastructure years ago.
  • DOLRT only serves a small corner of our area.  Most of our residents won’t benefit, yet they will be paying the cost.
  • Our neighbor, Wake County, listened to professional planners opting against light rail and went with other solutions like less costly Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that will serve more people with flexibility and funding for future population shifts
  • As projected ridership numbers affirm, it won’t make a significant difference in getting cars off the road and may add to the congestion with commuters driving to train stations
  • The 2012 allocated sales tax funds were for mass transit and not exclusively tied to light rail.
  • Presently, the ever-rising estimated cost is over 2.4 billion dollars to build and 29 million annually to maintain with loan payments extending beyond 2050.
  • Sources of funding are questionable relying on cash strapped federal, state, and local government sources—MORE TAXES!
  • It will consume our whole transportation budget taking money away from existing and future transportation options like bus service, bicycle paths and greenways that would get more cars off the road.
  • The first passenger won’t ride until 2028. Until then, we’ll be funding a bad plan and it may be obsolete by 2028 because of shifting population density and ever-changing technology.
  • More, more, more….

Of all these problems I am most bothered by the cost and the dated train model.  We desperately need solutions to our traffic problems, but we should be moving forward instead of back to railroad tracks and tethered electric trains.  A lot of alternative, innovative solutions that will better relieve our traffic mess without bankrupting our transportation budget are available NOW like: BRT buses, a network of protected bike lanes, driverless cars and trucks, and drones capable of transport.light rail and flying pod cartoon

If we make wise transportation choices now, we’ll be able to afford all the latest and greatest transportation technology that will eventually make gridlock just a memory.  My preference would be to fly with the Jetsons as opposed to riding with Fred and Barney.