Ken Larsen's web site - BOCC vote 5-2 to continue supporting light rail project    

At the tail end of a 5.5 hour long meeting, Orange County Commissioners voted 5-2 to sign a "non-binding" MOU (memorandum of understanding) to continue supporting the DOLRT, a project that will build a light rail line from UNC hospital to parts of Durham. 

Here's how the commissioners voted:

Mark Dorosin (new board chairman):  Yes
Mia Day Burroughs:  Yes
Barry Jacobs:  Yes
Mark Marcopolis:  Yes
Earl McKee:  No
Renee Price:  No
Penny Rich:  Yes

Here is the best explanation for why the commissioners voted to continue supporting the DOLRT:  Dec 5, 2016 letter from NC Congressman David Price

As a result of the BOCC vote, Orange and Durham counties will continue to permit GoTriangle to fund the project.  Cost to taxpayers has been estimated to be $ 700K per month.  This money comes from a 1/2 cent sales tax that was approved in 2012 for transportation use.  If the DOLRT were abruptly stopped, this money could go to other transportation needs ... like BRT (Bus Rapid Transit).  The 1/2 cent tax money cannot be spent on non-transportation needs like schools, greenways, or affordable housing. 

There is still time for Orange Country to extricate themselves from this project.  They have until April of 2017 [according to information presented at the December 5th BOCC meeting, but Congressman David Price's letter contradicts that].  Up until then, the project is still in the planning phase, and we'll be burning cash at a slower rate (estimate= $ 700K/month).  Come next April, the spigots will be turned on full blast as the project will enter the engineering phase.  This extra money will have to come from taxpayers (via increased property taxes) or diminished services (e.g. reduced bus service or reduced school funding).

The December application deadline is for the FTA New Starts monies which will be awarded in February.  In April, GoTriangle will award $70 million of contracts for project engineering. The commissioners need to decide by April if they want to spend the additional money or abandon the whole project.  -Bonnie Hauser




"If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."  -Will Rogers 1879-1935




More on the December 5th BOCC meeting


GoTriangle began the Light Rail section of the BOCC meeting with a presentation.  It can be seen at 2:53:31 into the BOCC video.  To view it, click on item 7d in the agenda (below the video).

29 people spoke during the public speakers segment.  12 voiced support for the project; 17 were against it. 

Here are links to the videos of the speeches of all 17 people who advocated against signing the MOU:  [Beside each name is a brief summary of their speech.]

  1. Tony Blake (speaker #1)  Hidden costs will drive up the real cost of DOLRT.  Don't sign the MOU until an independent cost-benefit study is done.

  2. Alex Castro (speaker #2)  DOLRT will siphon funds away from other programs like buses and park & ride.  Don't put all your money on light rail.  DOLRT won't serve its first customer until 2028.  This shortchanges seniors most of all.

  3. Ken Larsen (speaker #3)  DOLRT = Giant Vacuum Cleaner to suck money from taxpayers.  It only benefits UNC Hospital and the "Urban Growth Machine".

  4. Aaron Butner (speaker #4)  Other transportation options would be more flexible and cost effective.  DOLRT doesn't go where it should like Chatham Park, RDU, Wake County, and Hillsborough.  In 2015 Wake County abandoned Light Rail even though we were always told that they were part of the plan.  Wake's new plan triples their county-wide service. It positions them best for a changing future.  The Wake plan includes BRT, high frequency bus, and on-demand service for seniors.  They plan to adopt driverless buses as they become available.

  5. Ed Tiryakian (speaker #5)  MOU creates expectations that make it not as innocuous as people think.  It places Orange County unfairly at financial risk.  This is contrary to what the voters agreed upon in their vote for a sales tax increase in 2012. The MOU fails to address this point.  There have been several material changes which need to be addressed before the MOU is signed.

  6. Sam Garvo (speaker #6)  DOLRT will impose a debt on Orange County that will be way too big.  A bond will be needed to pay for the DOLRT.  The bond would likely be 2 or 3 times that of the one recently passed for schools.  DOLRT was a bad idea four years ago, and we got stuck in it.  You have a golden opportunity right now to be fiscally responsible.

  7. Norma White (speaker #10, speaking for the Grange)  DOLRT does nothing for rural Orange County.  The 1/2 cent sales tax was supposed to be for all transportation in Orange County.  We have yet to see any bus service in northern Orange County, Eno Township, Little River, and Bingham.  You are going to commit funds that are hard to come by.  This will cut services or raise taxes.

  8. Patricia Clayton (speaker #12, President of Northern Orange County branch of the NAACP) When we endorsed the 1/2 cent tax in 2012 we expected to see more buses.  We never liked light rail between UNC and Durham.  It is too expensive and provides too little for our people.  Based on recent funding cuts, we believe this is a good time to say "no more".  Northern Orange County has been asking for public transportation for years.  For us, that means access to better jobs and help for our seniors who are no longer driving.  We've been struggling under the weight of high taxes.

  9. Archie Daniel (speaker #15) DOLRT neglects seniors in rural northern Orange County, but those seniors will have to pay for the DOLRT.  Make sure that these seniors get their bang for the buck.

  10. Brenda McCall (speaker #17)  DOLRT will siphon resources away from critical services for vulnerable and underserved residents of Orange County.  These people would be better served by expanded bus service, on-demand rides, and self-driving vehicles.  These systems would cost less, reduce traffic, and serve larger portions of our county than the DOLRT.  Unlike Durham  ... which will benefit from an increased business tax base around transportation hubs ... , most of the area around the proposed Orange county segment has already been developed.  DOLRT is already way over budget even before its basic design has been completed.

  11. Charles Humble (speaker #18)  DOLRT could have made sense decades ago when development could have been oriented around it.  It would also make sense if it connected us to where it should (e.g. RDU airport), and if we had a larger share of supporters willing to share the cost.  Orange County is asked to increase its share of the cost as support from other funders melts away.  Projected costs keep escalating.  BRT would be more nimble, less costly, and a better fit for Orange County.  If you insist on signing the MOU, what county services might reduced or eliminated to pay for it?

  12. John Morris (speaker #23)  We need a plan that will really work for us.  DOLRT will only serve a tiny corner of Orange County.  It won't make a significant difference as far as getting people out of cars.  Light rail is the least cost effective method of transportation.  It's inflexible.  We don't know what development patterns will be in 2040.  If you invest all your bucks in light rail, you're stuck with that location and that technology.  Based on the Charlotte experience, the cost will double by the time it gets built.  My biggest concern is that it will sap the budget for other county needs.  Study what Wake County has done.

  13. Julie McClintock (speaker #24)  DOLRT isn't going where it needs to go (like Obey Creek and Ephesus Fordham).  Huge amounts of density are coming, but DOLRT won't serve them.  Our budget director said that currently there is no additional money for more bus service in the foreseeable future.  The Chapel Hill bus service is in trouble.  We're busy replacing buses.  We're doing our best to keep bus service at its present level, but it's not able to address the new needs.   Wake County has a tremendous public transportation plan.  Emulate it.  DOLRT may cost $2.5B by the time it's done.  You could build 16 BRTs with that money.

  14. Leif Rasmussen (speaker #25)  It would be better to invest in bicycle infrastructure.  It would be healthier + would actually get cars off the road + is far cheaper than the DOLRT.  Bike infrastructure would cost only $ 3M per mile which is more expensive than a greenway but far cheaper than the DOLRT.  For the cost of the DOLRT we could build a greenway from here to New York City.  We could build a system of trails to connect the whole Triangle.  Unfortunately, they will be taking $ 20M out of greenways to build the DOLRT.  Only 2% of the people in Durham and Orange Counties will actually use the line.  100% will be paying for it.  Of those will use the DOLRT, many will be college students and others who will be moving in.  They won't be paying for it.

  15. Cherie Hardman (speaker #27)  There have been too many false statements by GoTriangle.  Their projections are not based on reality.  Ridership has been exaggerated.  An independent analysis is needed. In 2010, Orange County had a population of 134,000, Durham had a population of 268,000, and Wake County had a population of 901,000.  GoTriangle claims that 23,000 people will ride it each day, yet only 16,000 ride the light rail line in Charlotte [population = 793,000 in 2013].  The bus between UNC and Duke currently has only 5 people per bus ride.  There is no guarantee of state funding.  It's "up to 10%".  It could be zero.  Lastly, the early projections were that a ride from UNC to Duke would take 22 minutes.  Now it's projected to be 44 minutes.

  16. Bonnie Hauser (speaker #28)  Presents petition with over 600 signatures to BOCC.  DOLRT bears little resemblance to what voters approved of in 2012.

  17. Alex Cabanes (speaker #29)  Estimated costs keep rising and funding keeps dropping.  At what point does a good idea become a bad idea?  LOLRT was originally estimated at $ 1.35B. It now sits at $ 1.87B and going up. When is enough enough? 


A petition with over 600 signatures was presented by Bonnie Hauser to the board advocating that the MOU not be signed, but that petition was ignored.  It was obvious to me that the five "yes" commissioners had already made up their minds.  They weren't going to be dissuaded by the public.


Links to videos of DOLRT proponents


Video of Commissioner McKee's questions to GoTriangle and their answers  Commissioner Earl McKee said that GoTriangle has spent $ 27,681,063 for light rail during the past three years.  That equates to an average of $768,918.42 per month for three years.  GoTriangle asserts that the average has been $ 400,000/month for the past 12 months.


Video of Commissioner McKee's reasons for voting "no"


Video of Commissioner Penny Rich's comment about fake news  She perceived some of the comments made by tonight's speakers as being fake news.

My thoughts

I was very disappointed in the vote.  I regard the DOLRT as a complete waste of money (details). 

Mia Day Burroughs and Barry Jacobs are up for election in November of 2018.  Mark Dorosin, Mark Marcopolis, and Penny Rich are up for election in November of 2020.


January 4, 2017 Chapel Hill News:  "DOLRT, Giant Vacuum Cleaner" -a guest column I wrote

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