Ken Larsen's assessment of Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project (DOLRT)  


At first glance, the DOLRT appears to be a great transit project which our growing community desperately needs.  Triangle traffic has been growing steadily worse over the past few decades.  DOLRT seems like a solution; however, close inspection reveals many serious design and funding flaws.  Because of these flaws, DOLRT should be scuttled.  Take our losses and walk away.  Don't waste any more taxpayer money.


DOLRT has many flaws and should be abandoned [short explanation]


Here are the reasons why:


1 There will be over 40 at-grade crossings.  These will snarl car traffic, cause fatal accidents, and pollute the air.  [details and details and video1 and video2]
2 There is no guarantee that DOLRT will get its expected significant contribution from the Federal government.  The DOLRT proposal filed with FTA is for $2.5B, of which GoTriangle expects 50% from the Federal government. The estimated cost has since risen to $3.3B partially because money will have to be borrowed to bridge a state funding cutback.  The interest payments will extend to 2062 and are excluded from the "official" $2.5B project estimate.

We won't even know what, if any, Federal money will be provided until the year 2020.  [details]  If DOLRT doesn't get the Federal money, everything that has been spent thus far on DOLRT will have been wasted.  That figure was $ 38M in early 2017.  Since then, the "sunk cost" has been growing by an estimated $ 5M per month, because DOLRT entered the engineering phase in April of 2017.  Hence, by the end of 2017, the sunk cost will have grown to $ 83M ($ 38M + 9 x $ 5M = $ 38M + 45M).

By the end of 2018, the sunk costs will have reached $ 143M.

By the end of 2019, the sunk costs will have reached $ 203M.

Therefore, in 2020 if the Federal government elects to not fund DOLRT, DOLRT will have to be abandoned, and over $ 200M will have been wasted.  That $ 200M could have bought a lot of buses or could have been given to other more deserving community needs ... like fixing our deteriorating schools ..., but instead, it goes totally down the drain.

Click here to see a list of all transit projects which have requested funding from the Federal government.  The key thing to understand is that not all of these projects will get funded.  If DOLRT doesn't get funded, we will be left high and dry.  This risk is one thing GoTriangle does not want the general public to know.

(November 26, 2017) DOLRT is currently ranked last of six transit projects lined up to try to get federal funding.  [details

(January 31, 2018) "Could Trump's new infrastructure plan kill the Durham-Orange Light Rail?" -INDY

(October 3, 2018) "Trump Delays More Federal Transit Funds"

For more on this issue, read this.

Options available if DOLRT does not get Federal funding

3 There is no guarantee that DOLRT will even get 10% from North Carolina state government.  Originally NC State government was supposed to provide 25%, but then they reduced that to 10% max in 2016.
4 To bridge the NC state funding gap, money will be borrowed.  It'll be 2062 before all the debt is paid off.
5 To pay off the debt and the high cost of DOLRT, local government programs will have to be cut back ... or taxes will have to be raised.  This will negatively impact schools, greenways, affordable housing, and bus routes.
6 Cost overruns will torment this project.  At a November 15, 2017 ROMF public presentation I asked GoTriangle staff if it was true that every 4 years a train had to be sent to Seimens in California to be completely overhauled ... at a cost of $ 400K per train.  GoTriangle's Danny Rogers said that it was every 12 years.  Well, his information is false, and my statement is correct.  [details]

[April 18, 2017 BOCC public comment by Harold Gordon on hidden costs that GoTriangle has ignored.]

"In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment.  If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved.  The idea is to get going.  Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in."  -former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, talking about cost overruns for the San Francisco Transbay Terminal mega project.

(December 2018) The latest cost overrun is a proposal by GoTriangle to build a tunnel under a part of downtown Durham [details]. 
7 If the project ever gets completed, gentrification along the route will force low income people away from the route.  This would be very bad, because they are the ones who could most benefit from light rail.  [details 'We missed a major opportunity.'  Affordable housing lags near new Charlotte light rail.
8 Unless you live within a quarter mile of a station and your destination is also within a quarter mile of a station, you'll take your car instead of the train.  If you're not physically fit, if it's raining or you have many packages to carry, you'll also take your car.  Ridership estimates provided by GoTriangle have been grossly exaggerated.
9 DOLRT will negatively impact the environment.  [details]



Why hasn't DOLRT been scrubbed?


  1. The "urban growth machine" won't let it die.  They are driving DOLRT, because it's all about Transit Oriented Development (TOD).  TOD sounds good, but it's just another tool to line the pockets of the urban growth machine.

  2. GoTriangle has been a master at salesmanship ... convincing the gullible public that DOLRT is a wonderful project.  However, GoTriangle has levied one deception after another in an effort to dupe the public.  [details and example]  I do not trust them.  GoTriangle promise that "They'll get back to me"  The sad fact is that GoTriangle's DOLRT propaganda machine is being paid for at taxpayer expense.  [Over $ 100M thus far.  One of their slimier tactics is to use the holiday season to divulge key pieces of information and hold key meetings.  That's when the public is least paying attention.]

  3. The politicians who are backing DOLRT don't want to omit that they made a mistake.  No politician ever does.  On April 27, 2017 the Orange County Commissioners had a golden opportunity to stop the lunacy of DOLRT, but they instead voted 5-2 to approve it.  [details]

  4. The general public is too busy with their family and jobs to get involved, and/or they've been brainwashed by GoTriangle's propaganda machine.  Many people think that DOLRT goes to the airport, but it doesn't!  Most don't understand what an at-grade crossing is.  They won't realize what a colossal mistake DOLRT is until it's turned on in 2029.

  5. For those members of the general public who have taken the time to understand all the aspects of DOLRT, complaining about it can be a very frustrating experience.  You attend a public forum like a BOCC (Board of Orange County Commissioners) meeting and you can wait as long as 4 or 5 hours to have a maximum of 3 minutes to talk.  Then, you get ignored when the final votes are made.  You walk away ill-inclined to do that ever again.  That's what the proponents of DOLRT want.  They want the opponents to go away.

  6. About the only people who have ample time to research DOLRT are retirees.  However, DOLRT is not scheduled to be turned on until 2029.  Many retirees figure that it's not worth their effort to fight it.  They may be gone by 2029.



[Background information]


2018 interview with Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee about DOLRT

Ken Larsen's home page