It just doesn’t make sense. The most notable train advocate of them all, the late Roy Acuff, used to reckon the Wabash Cannonball was “mighty tall and handsome, and loved by one and all.” And Acuff once ran as the conservative, Republican nominee for governor of Tennessee.
So what is it with North Carolina GOP leaders in the General Assembly, and for that matter in local government, and their antipathy toward light rail and commuter rail?
The issue has become one of rail versus roads. In the new Republican-led state budget, there is a provision that the state should not contribute more than $500,000 to any light rail project. That limit will hinder rail projects in Orange and Durham counties, where residents approved a tax to pay their share.
Charlotte got 25 percent of the cost of its first light-rail project awhile back, and Wake, Orange and Durham counties were hoping for that kind of help.
In Wake, as reported by The News & Observer’s Road Worrier, Bruce Siceloff, the limit may not have an immediate effect because the county is talking mostly about buses and also commuter rail that runs with diesel engines on individual cars.
The state should eagerly invest in transit options. The benefits and potential benefits are far-reaching. Consider all the traffic between Orange and Durham counties involving universities and medical facilities, and the potential in linking these three urban counties with light rail, commuter rail or high-speed buses.
Good mass transit is an opportunity to do positive things for the environment and for the economy, and it can bring regions together. But local and state leaders have to sell it. And they first have to believe in it.
In Wake County, Republican Wake commissioners did all they could to disprove the common sense of better transit options and deny them to residents. It was pure, shortsighted politics, and it was one of the issues that got Republicans sent packing by voters in the last election.
Local officials in the Triangle, including the Democratic commissioners who dismissed those Republicans, should not give up the campaign for productive and farsighted transit alternatives.