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


March 27, 2019:  GoTriangle Board votes to end its pursuit of Durham-Orange light rail.

I'm thrilled that DOLRT has been ended, but I'm angry that $ 130M was wasted.  That could have been avoided if GoTriangle and local politicians had listened to the many activists who for years had pointed out DOLRT's flaws.  

May 28, 2019:  The light rail waste has been re-estimated to be $ 159M. [details]


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 key reasons:


1 DOLRT will serve very few people.  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.  Because of this, DOLRT will not solve our traffic problem.  The root cause of issues such as traffic and flooding is population growth and overdevelopment.

Orange County has a land size of 398 square miles; Durham County is 286 square miles.  Together they are 684 square miles.  The amount of that area that lies within a quarter mile of a DOLRT station is only 3.5 square miles.  That's only a half of a percent of the total area of both counties.  That means that 99.5% of the two counties is not close enough to DOLRT to make use of it.

Citizens have been brainwashed by GoTriangle and local politicians into thinking that DOLRT will magically transport people from their homes to their jobs.  That's completely false.  It's not a taxi.  It's a train. 
2 DOLRT is not flexible.  It runs on tracks.  The tracks cannot be moved to adjust to changing needs.  That's a huge liability, because public transportation should serve the people who need it most ... low income people.  If you build a light rail line and then developers buy up the property around train stations and build "luxury apartments", that creates gentrification which pushes low income people away from the rail line.  This is why buses are far superior to light rail.  Bus routes can be changed; tracks cannot be changed.

Light rail's lack of flexibility is why developers love light rail and not buses.  Light rail is essentially a public subsidy for their "luxury apartments".  Bus routes are not, because they can be moved. 

The goal of public transportation should be to serve low income people ... not developers. 
3 DOLRT is a financial mess that will drain county budgets for decades.  [details]

In April of 2016 Orange County Commissioners endorsed a plan that would borrow money until the year 2062 to pay for DOLRT.  That's total lunacy!  Then, near the end of 2018 GoTriangle redesigned the downtown Durham portion of DOLRT to add some tunnels.  That will add another $ 100M to the cost of DOLRT.  There's no source of funding other than raising taxes. 
4 Light rail is a poor use of transportation money.  You can serve vastly more people with buses than light rail.  Buses are cheap compared to light rail.  An electric bus costs an average of $ 750,000.  DOLRT will cost over $ 3B and take a decade to build.  For a fraction of $ 3B, you could buy 100 electric buses and put them into service immediately ... and cover a wide portion of Orange and Durham Counties.
5 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]
6 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.
7 DOLRT will negatively impact the environment.  [details]


For a detailed list, see DOLRT issues.


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 developers.

  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] Interestingly, all of the local pro-DOLRT politicians are Democrats.  As a Democrat, that saddens me, because the Republicans are too right-wing, and the Democrats are now the other extreme ... leaving no one in the middle.  Sanity has left.  February 5, 2019:  BOCC Commissioners Penny Rich (Chair) and Mark Marcoplos staunchly defend DOLRT and GoTriangle

  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