Ken Larsen's web site - DOLRT Issues




1 Fails to serve many key areas It won't serve:

RDU airport
downtown Chapel Hill
Southern Village
Obey Creek (future huge development across from Southern Village)
Southpoint mall
Chatham Park (future huge development near Pittsboro)
2 Won't serve the people it is intended to serve Ideally, light rail should serve low income people who don't have cars; however, it won't serve such people because:

Such people are widely scattered all over Orange, Durham, and Chatham counties.  Very few live near the DOLRT route.

For those who do live near a station, property values along the route will escalate - thus pushing out the very people Light Rail is suppose to serve.  This gentrification has occurred in numerous places which have light rail.  One of them is Charlotte according to Jamezetta Bedford. The property owners become the primary beneficiaries of light rail.

DOLRT won't even serve UNC Healthcare well, because their buildings are popping up all over the place.  They're no longer concentrated near UNC Hospital.  (August 2, 2016) UNC Health Care to move 1000 employees to Morrisville
3 Expected ridership is greatly exaggerated

People won't use a light rail system unless they live within a quarter mile of a station and their destination is also within a quarter mile of a station.  The probability of both of those being true is less than a tenth of a percent for Chapel Hill and Durham!  [click here for the math]  The proposed system will only provide transit along a slim thread connecting UNC, Duke and NCCU.  There is too much sprawl. 

A quarter mile may be too much for some people if it's raining, they're infirm, they have many packages to carry, or they have small children in tow.  They'll use their car instead.

To prove this point, an experiment should be conducted where buses are dedicated to running the LR route for a year ... stopping only at points where stations are to be built.  See what the ridership is.  I predict it will be well below the estimates for the LR line.

One of my neighbors works at UNC.  He says there is a bus which drives regularly to Duke, but it is never full.  This needs to be investigated.  It makes no sense to spend $billions on a light rail system and have low ridership.

In Charlotte, people are preferring Uber over Light Rail.

Lastly, one of the assumptions that GoTriangle has made is that 40% of households won't have cars.  That's totally unrealistic.

Because of these issues and the grade crossings issue (see #17, below), the DOLRT won't reduce traffic anywheres near what it purports to do.

4 Priority should be given to other needs

Orange County doesn't have a bottomless pit of money.  Money should be earmarked to the most pressing needs like school maintenance, teacher salaries, regular bus service, affordable housing, and greenways.  The DOLRT has the potential to siphon significant amounts of money away from all of these.  Many of Chapel Hill's aging buses need to be repaired or replaced, and UNC has frozen its contribution.  Park and Ride now costs money.

5 Estimated costs keep rising

Construction costs were estimated at:

$ 1.387B in 2012

$ 1.6B in early 2016

$ 1.87B in November 2016

$ 2.5B in January 2017


Read this story about Denver's light rail cost overruns:  "Fast Tracks to Nowhere: Denver's Decade Old Boondoggle"]


At-grade crossings will snarl traffic, bring noise, and increase the possibility of collisions. 

7 Light rail crashes, accidents, and deaths Lengthy list of links to stories about light rail calamities. 
8 Letter of intent asked for by GoTriangle should not be signed

Orange County Commissioners should not sign the letter of intent.  It doesn't sound legally binding, but it significantly reduces Orange County's negotiating power.


The letter pegs Orange County's contribution at 23%, but only 15% of the route lies in Orange County.  The other big question is "23% of what?".  Estimated construction cost keeps rising.  23% of a moving target is a moving target.  That places Orange County in a precarious financial position.

9 Distortions by GoTriangle

GoTriangle claims that the funding gap can be closed by loans.  This will just kick the can down the road and increase the cost and time needed to pay for DOLRT.

In their fiscal evaluation, GoTriangle overestimates the revenue to be brought in by sales tax.  They assert that Orange County sales tax will grow by 4.1% annually and they compound that number.  However, sales tax revenue has been stagnant in Orange County.

GoTriangle has underestimated the interest payments on the debt needed to pay for DOLRT.

GoTriangle has inflated the projected ridership of DOLRT.  They assert that daily ridership will be 26,000 per day, but that's double what Charlotte (population = 827,000) is experiencing with their light rail line, yet Orange-Durham Counties have a considerably smaller population (428,000).  GoTriangle inflated their estimate to qualify for Federal funding.


GoTriangle knew about the state funding decrease (from 25% to 10%) since 2015, but they waited until November of 2016 to divulge it to County commissioners.  Then they pressured the commissioners into making a quick decision to fill the funding gap ... insisting that they sign the MOU.

10 Letter sent to Orange County Commissioners (November 28, 2016) Hard questions from four expects about the DOLRT
11 Orange County should do what Wake County has done Wake County hired an independent consultant rather rely on GoTriangle's advice. 

Wake now has:

  • 37 miles of commuter rail (not Light Rail)
  • 20 miles of BRT
  • 83 miles of high frequency service   (Every 15 minutes including nights and weekends)
  • On demand service for rural seniors

This is great because it provides more service to more people.
12 Too time consuming and costly to build Unlike a bus system, light rail is enormously time consuming and costly to build.  Decades and huge amount of money can be needed to purchase land and build light rail's tracks and stations.  Light Rail has also had a history of cost overruns ... with many estimates being only half of what the real cost turns out to be.
13 Maintenance costs can be high (Alex Cabanes) In 2007 Charlotte bought 16 trains for $ 50M.  That's a little more than $ 3M per train.  In 2012 after just 4 years of service, they had to ship all 16 trains to Siemens in California for repairs.  Repairs cost $ 400K per train.  That repair cost was just a little below the cost of a bus ($ 500K).  Charlotte could have bought 16 brand new buses for the money they spent on repairing their trains!
14 Inflexible Once a light rail system has been built, you're stuck with it.  It's rigid and cannot be modified.  A bus system can be modified very quickly by adding and/or deleting bus service to fit shifting needs.  Needs are constantly shifting, because towns grow.
15 BRT is cheaper and more flexible BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) costs 1/5 as much as Light Rail and is more flexible.
16 UNC, Duke, and NCCU won't be paying UNC, Duke, and NCCU are non-profits.  That means they don't pay taxes.  None of them will be contributing to the building and upkeep of the proposed system - yet they are the primary beneficiaries.  This is not just.

Meanwhile, no one in Hillsborough can be expected to use the DOLRT, because they're too far from it.  However, their property taxes will rise to pay for it.
17 Property taxes will likely rise 10% thus exacerbating our affordable housing issue (November 2016) GoTriangle has requested that Orange and Durham counties increase their funding from 25% to 40% of the total DOLRT cost.  This is because NC state government has decided to cut back its share from 25% to 10%.  Adding this to the recent bonds that passed, property taxes in both Orange and Durham counties will likely rise 10%.
18 Light rail is a nostrum to line the pockets of developers Nostrum = "a questionable medicine or remedy".  It's being pushed by developers and other members of the Urban Growth Machine to line their pockets.
19 Environmental impact The route will go through the wetlands that are the northern end of Jordan Lake.  It will also cross New Hope Creek as it goes along 15-501.

Bonnie Hauser:  The planners agree that the project will do nothing to relieve congestion (pollution), and some believe that with all the park and rides and transfers via bus, it's likely that pollution will increase.

Bonnie Hauser:  With the support of Durham and Orange Counties, TTA (Triangle Transit Authority) has spent $ 40 million studying the environmental impact.  Imagine how much [bus] service we could have had for that amount.
20 Metal expansion issue When the temperature gets above 90 F metals expand. Overhead copper wires begin to sag, and steel rails become more prone to buckle.  Light rail trains must slow down on such days ... which are many in North Carolina.  Slower moving trains will introduce delays.
21 Bicycle safety issue Bikes riding across light rail's rail may get tripped up.  See this story.
22 Damage to car undercarriages Similar to going over speed bumps, car undercarriages will suffer damage over time as they travel across and along rail tracks.
23 Impacts to existing property Finley Golf Course will have to redo two holes.  Estimated cost is up to $ 1 million. 

If DOLRT is built, Glenwood Elementary School will likely be moved ... to free up land for developers to build high density adjacent to DOLRT ... and justify it being built.
24 Chapel Hill neighborhoods don't want it Meadowmont residents don't want DOLRT passing through their neighborhood. That eliminates routes C1 and C1A.

Downing Creek residents don't want it either.  That eliminates routes C2 and C2A ... which are the only alternatives to C1/C1A.  Downing Creek objects to noise, safety, traffic, and parking issues.  The proposed nearby station won't have any parking, so Downing Creek residents fear that DOLRT riders will instead park in their neighborhood (see issue #26, below).
25 Overhead electrical lines Overhead electrical lines will run the entire 17.7 miles of the DOLRT.  In my opinion, these may be vulnerable to high winds, ice forming, and tree falling.  This needs to be explored.  In my Chapel Hill neighborhood of Briarcliff there is one street (Tinkerbell) that has overhead powerlines.  Homes on it were without power for 9 days after a storm dumped 20 inches of snow on Chapel Hill on January 25, 2000.
26 Park & ride issues Half of the stations won't have park & ride lots.  Those which do will charge for parking.  Both of those will encourage people in nearby neighborhoods.  That will raise the ire of those neighborhoods.  The only beneficiary will be towing companies.
27 Orange-Durham cost split was poorly negotiated by Orange County
 The current split is 23% (Orange)-77% (Durham).  For the following reasons, the Orange County split should be much lower:
  1. Only 3 miles of the 17.7 miles of the route lies in Orange County.
  2. Only 4 of the 18 stations lie in Orange County, and all of those lie on UNC property (which is state owned). 
  3. Only one of the 4 Orange County stations will have a parking lot - the Friday Center.
  4. The opportunity for development along the Orange County portion of the route is virtually nil. 
  5. Durham will be getting all the sales tax revenue.

A fair share of the Orange County contribution might be closer to 5%.

Orange County Commissioners need to step up their negotiating skills!

28 Vibration and noise issues Information excerpted from a Light Rail design report (found by Culp Arbor's Lisa Brach)

Video of a Denver at-grade crossing (Noisy!)

Video of light rail in Charlotte (Noisy!)
29 ROMF site has raised the ire ... and a lawsuit from neighbors ROMF = Railway Operations Maintenance Facility  (details)

January 31, 2019:  DOLRT ROMF rezoning lawsuit

Click here for an essay on why Light Rail is a bad idea.


Petition to Orange County Commissioners

This petition was presented by Bonnie Hauser to Orange County Commissioners at their December 5, 2016, but it was ignored.  [Read my January 4, 2017 Chapel Hill News guest column.]

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