As they say, read the fine print. That’s what people along GoTriangle’s proposed light-rail line in southwestern Durham County are doing, and many of them don’t like what they see.
An information meeting earlier this month at Creekside Elementary School, a hop, skip and a jump away from the preferred location for light rail’s epicenter – a 20-acre maintenance yard – brought out opponents in force.
Fact is, the more people along the 17-mile route learn about the impact of light rail, the more they dislike it. Unlike the elites who plan these Lionel trains on steroids, secure government funding for them with OPM (other people’s money) and refuse to consider the wisdom of a no-build option, residents along the route have to live with the consequences.
So far, two clusters of opposition have emerged: Downing Creek off N.C. 54 and abutting the Orange County line, and Farrington Road between N.C. 54 and Ephesus Church Road.
Some of those who attended the Creekside School meeting were justifiably concerned about the environmental impact of the maintenance yard – noise, hazardous chemicals and impact on property values. GoTriangle says the yard could cost up to $93 million, but the actual tab almost certainly would be higher.
A less-preferred and more expensive site for the yard, the old Pepsi bottling plant between Cornwallis and Pickett roads, raises similar issues for Duke Forest residents and Judea Reform congregation.
Of course, there is no good site for a rail maintenance yard because somebody’s going to be inconvenienced, day and night.
And if you’re a Downing Creek or Farrington Road resident, inconvenience will quickly become a condition of life – during peak hours, the trains run every 10 minutes between Alston Avenue in East Durham to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.
As originally envisioned, light rail would have run through tony Meadowmont, which was built with the system in mind. But once Meadowmontians realized what was coming down the track, they forced a reset of the route along N.C. 54 that requires four at-grade crossings between Downing Creek and the Friday Center.
If you get the feeling that southwestern Durham is getting dumped on by GoTriangle, your synch meter is working perfectly. This is where Casey Jones would throw up his hands and take the bus.
Which by a large margin is the reasonable thing to do. I’ve noted in this space before that light rail would cost $103 million a mile, if not more by the time the system is running 10 or 15 years from now.
That sounds like a tremendous cache of cash, but it’s the average for a mile of light rail in the United States. At the high end is Seattle, where a mile of underground line carries a $600 million tab.
If you get the feeling that southwestern Durham is getting dumped on by GoTriangle, your synch meter is working perfectly.
Light rail has a decidedly mixed record in today’s America. A hundred years ago, it made sense. Then it was known as the trolley or streetcar, which served linear routes for city dwellers, most of whom could not afford a Model T Ford.
Now we are proposing to overlay light rail in cities that grew up with the automobile, the most efficient point-to-point means of transport ever devised. Buses share the same virtue.
Not so light rail, or any rail, for that matter. Trains can only go where the rails go. And when you get there, you still need street transport to get to your workplace, home or other venue.
It is this inflexibility that undermines the golden promises of light rail. A bus route can be changed in a matter of days. A light rail route in a matter of years, assuming it’s affordable via higher fares, assorted fees and taxes.
GoTriangle doesn’t talk about maintenance costs, the hairy gorilla in the closet. But like anything else mechanical, train sets and their tracks require constant, costly upkeep for safety and reliability.
Nor do light-rail fanciers talk much about ridership. Charlotte’s ballyhooed, 9.3-mile Blue Line, comparable what GoTriangle seeks to inflict upon us, cost $106 million per mile – and runs at 46 percent of capacity.
So, carry on, Downing Creek and friends. This train hasn’t left the station, not by a long whistle.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.