Sometimes we make bad decisions. Back in my 20s I used my entire savings to buy a sports car. It was sexy looking, and I wanted it.
That purchase turned out to be a bad choice as it was virtually useless as a transportation vehicle – a gas hog which had skimpy storage space and could seat only two people. I sacrificed too much financially, and I wasn’t pragmatic.
At their Dec. 5 meeting I observed the Orange County commissioners commit my blunder. In a non-binding vote they agreed 5-2 to continue throwing copious amounts of taxpayer money at a sexy but impractical solution – the Durham to Chapel Hill light rail line.
They did this despite the pleas of 17 “no” speakers and a petition with over 600 signatures. Bonnie Hauser presented the petition. She may as well have fed her petition into a shredder. The 17 speakers may as well have spoken to a wall. The five “yes” commissioners had made up their minds long ago. They wanted the sports car. Cogent arguments and the petition were not going to dissuade them.
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During my speech I coined the term “Giant Vacuum Cleaner” to describe the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project. It will suck money from taxpayers and other programs. That sentiment was shared by many other speakers.
Other concerns that were voiced about DOLRT:
▪ It doesn’t go where it needs to go (like Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Research Triangle Park and Chatham Park).
▪ Solutions such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) are more nimble, less costly, and a better fit for Orange County.
▪ We should follow what Wake County has done. They ditched light rail and went with an array of other solutions that will serve more people.
▪ Bicycle paths and greenways would get more cars off the road. Ironically, the DOLRT will likely cut funding to both.
▪ It serves only a tiny corner of Orange County.
▪ It won’t make a significant difference in getting cars off the road.
▪ Rural Orange County residents won’t benefit, yet they will be paying the cost.
▪ The principal beneficiary (UNC Hospitals) won’t be paying anything.
▪ Estimated costs keeping rising; hidden costs keep popping up.
▪ Sources of funding are fleeing. The North Carolina state legislature dropped its share from 25 percent to 10 percent. Will Trump’s federal government follow suit? We have been expecting 50 percent from them.
▪ It will siphon money away from existing bus service. Chapel Hill Transit service is already in trouble due to an aging fleet of buses, a frozen budget, and population growth.
▪ DOLRT won’t serve its first passenger until 2028. Until then, the only things we’ll see are the bills to pay for it.
▪ It may be obsolete by 2028 because of shifting population density and ever-changing technology.
▪ There have been too many false, misleading, or missing statements from GoTriangle. An independent review is needed.
▪ DOLRT only serves UNC and developers.
▪ The Memorandum of Understanding is not as innocuous as it sounds. Signing it creates expectations and removes Orange County’s negotiating position.
▪ DOLRT bears little resemblance to what voters approved of in 2012.
There is still time to avert financial and transportation calamity. DOLRT is currently burning cash at the rate of $700,000 per month. Beginning in April 2017 DOLRT will enter design and then engineering phases. Those phases will cost millions of dollars per month. As Sen. Everett Dirksen once said, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.”
We should put the kibosh on this vacuum cleaner and cut our losses. “If you’re in a hole, stop digging,” Will Rogers said.
I applaud Commissioners Earl McKee and Renee Price for their “no” votes at the Dec. 5 commissioners meeting. We need more leaders like them.
Ken Larsen lives in Chapel Hill. Read more on his website: http://kenlarsennc.com/