Ken Larsen's web site - DOLRT info   


1.0 Map of DOLRT




Click here for a map which can be zoomed in on to show the street crossings.


2.0 Questions and answers about the proposed Chapel Hill-Durham Light Rail Project




1 What will be its length? 17.7 miles
2 Where will it go? from UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill to NCCU in Durham.  See above map.


Why is it being built? 1. Allegedly to reduce car traffic on 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Durham.  [Ken:  This is the number 1 reason why people are enamored with the DOLRT, but their enthusiasm is not justified.  Light Rail will raise property taxes, siphon money away from better solutions, will only benefit developers and other members of the "urban growth machine", and it will add traffic to the eastern edge of Chapel Hill as that area gets further developed, but that area already has traffic problems.  (details) ]

2. To open up a new corridor for dense development.
4 What is the projected number of daily passengers? 27,000 boardings/day (13,500 people taking round trip rides) but not until the year 2040  GoTriangle recently increased their estimate to 27,000 when they added NCCU.

The commuter projections are grossly inflated. They had to extend the projection period from 2035 to 2040, and assumed 40% of households will not have cars (and are going where the LRT is going).  Economists Bob Healy (Duke) and Eric Ghrylis (UNC) asked GoTriangle for models. The request was denied for  “civil rights reasons”. 

Ken:  GoTriangle made up their numbers.  Based on the Duke and UNC transit reports [Duke report, UNC report], only a small percentage of their workers currently take public transportation.  The 27,000 number is a gross exaggeration.  The exaggeration was done deliberately to be able to qualify for Federal funding.  The Feds didn't question the numbers.

An independent study is needed to examine GoTriangle's numbers and modeling. 

5 Who are the passengers?  Students, workers at UNC, UNC Medical, Duke, Duke Medical, and NCCU.
6 How much will the fares be? Unknown.  GoTriangle won't say.  [Denver charges $ 5.00/day.]
7 What hours and days/week will it be operational? 5:30 AM - midnight (Monday-Saturday)  That's 18.5 hours/day.
6:30 AM - midnight (Sunday)  That's 17.5 hours on Sunday.
8 How often will trains arrive at a station? Every 10 minutes during peak hours (6-9 AM and 3-6 PM Monday-Friday)  That's 6 trains/hour in each direction or a total of 12 trains/hour for 6 hours each day.
Every 20 minutes during non-peak hours.  This is 3 trains/hour in each direction or a total of 6 trains/hour for 12.5 hours each day.
9 How many stations will there be? 18
10 How many trains will there be? 18
11 How many parking spaces/station will be built? 860 Park & Ride (PnR) spaces in Orange County + 4290 in Durham County = 5150 total. Only one parking structure @ Alston, all other PnR will be massive parking lots.

Only 9 of the 18 stations will have parking. 
12 Will station parking be free? No
13 What will be its cost? $ 2.5B + overruns

It was $ 1.37B in 2011, $ 1.6B in early 2016, $ 1.87B in mid 2016, and now it's $ 2.5B (with the addition of NCCU).  It's a moving target!

[Ken:  I'll bet that cost overruns will drive this estimate through the roof.  Read this story about Denver's light rail cost overruns:  "Fast Tracks to Nowhere: Denver's Decade Old Boondoggle"]
14 How much money has GoTriangle already spent on DOLRT? $ 27,681,063 ... all during the past 3 years (2014-2016) according to Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee ... who got that number from GoTriangle.  [details]

That equates to an average of $ 768,918.42 per month.  This number will go up to about $ 5M per month once DOLRT enters the engineering phase (April of 2017).
15 What will be the yearly maintenance costs?
$ 28.7M

Back in 2011 this number was estimated to be $ 14.3M.
16 Who will pay for the construction and yearly maintenance?
  • 50% Federal [Bonnie Hauser:  The Feds appear posed to follow NC state and not provide this funding.]
  • 10% NC state  [was dropped from 25% in November 2016]
  • was 25% Local [Bonnie Hauser:  This comes from the 1/2 cent sales tax that voters approved in 2012, an additional $7 or $8 tacked onto your vehicle registration fee, and rental car tax.]

In November 2016 GoTriangle asked Durham and Orange Counties to boost their contribution from 25% to 40%.  They want Orange County commissioners to sign a "letter of intent" promising to provide the 40%, because NC state will be dropping their share from 25% to a maximum of 10%. 

There are a couple of other issues that will likely jeopardize the funding and put Orange and Durham counties more on the hook:

1. Sales tax receipts haven't been tracking to plan.  Orange County was supposed to provide DOLRT with $ 5M/year from sales tax receipts.

2. The Federal government is changing the rate of reimbursement, so if DOLRT gets $ 800M from the Federal government, it'll be at $ 100M/year instead of $ 125M/year.  DOLRT will have to make up the difference in interest payments.

(January 6, 2017) GoTriangle says that they expect to fill the light-rail funding gap with loans.  That just pushes the burden to our taxpayers and their children. 

17 How secure is the Federal government's 50% share of the cost? First of all, it's a maximum of 50%.  It might end up being zero, because there are many projects competing for funding by the FTA's (Federal Transit Authority) New Starts Program and not all will be funded.  Click here to see the queue of Capital Investment Grant (CIG) programs.  According to the FTA, "The law outlines a multi-year, multi-step process projects must go through to be eligible for and receive this funding. The process includes steps along the way when FTA must evaluate and rate the project according to criteria set forth in law. That evaluation and rating process includes an examination of cost-effectiveness, mobility improvements, environmental benefits, congestion relief, land use, economic development, and local financial commitment."

For more information, see this FTA web page.
18 How much will UNC, Duke, and NCCU pay? Nothing  [Ken:  This is outrageous as they are the primary beneficiaries.  Light Rail is essentially an enormously expensive "park and ride" for UNC Hospital.]
19 How long will it take to go from end to end? 46 minutes.  This includes a stop at each station.  Then, each train will wait 10 minutes before going in the other direction.

(BRT would be 39 minutes)

The original estimate for LR was 34 minutes back when it was proposed in 2011.
20 How many miles/year will a train travel? Based on the answers to questions 1, 7 and 19, a train will travel 17.7 miles in 56 minutes for about 18 hours per day.  That equates to 341 miles per day or 124,465 miles per year.
21 Are there any major maintenance expense issues? Yes.  Every 300,000 miles an entire train must be shipped to Siemens in California for a major overhaul.  This will cost $ 400,000 per train.  [details]

Based on the answer to question 20, this major expense will have to paid at least once every four years per train.  At a November 15, 2017 ROMF GoTriangle meeting, a GoTriangle representative said that the overhaul would only have to be done every 12 years.  His answer is false.
22 How many at-grade crossings will there be?

Grade crossings are also known as "level crossings".
Over 40  [details]

23 How long will car traffic be halted at an at-grade crossing? 50 seconds for each crossing.  See this video from Denver.

Each crossing will see 12 trains/hour during peak hours (6 hours/day) and 6 trains/hour during non-peak hours (12.5 hours) according to bullet #8.  That's a total of 147 crossings per day or 147 x 50 = 7350 seconds = 2 hours per day per crossing.
24 When will it become operational? 2029 for end-to-end service

Back in 2011, the end date was projected to be 2025.
25 Questions from Bonnie Hauser (January 19, 2017)
What  would be the rough timing and cost estimate if the commissioners decided to switch from DOLRT to BRT for the 17 mile corridor?  

What would be the consequences if they left DOLRT just in Downtown Durham?
Of the buses every 47 seconds, where are they coming from?
Ask them about a broader alternative for integrated regional transit - what happens to rough costs and timeframes if:
  • Wake’s commuter rail extended from Durham to Hilllsborough and Mebane (on existing tracks)
  • DOLRT became BRT or DOLRT became BRT and Downtown Durham remained LRT
  • MLK BRT continued to Chatham Park.
  • BRT Service was added to 54 West - at least to Carrboro Plaza 

To me, that’s the makings of a backbone service system.

What is happening with federal funding in general?  Does the FTA has a preference for BRT vs LRT?


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