Ken Larsen's web site - Reasons why people support the DOLRT Light Rail project

 

On my primary Light Rail web page, I document reasons why the DOLRT (Durham-Orange County Light Rail project) is a bad idea. 

 

Here is why people support DOLRT:

 

# Proponent/Reasons Explanation
1 GoTriangle GoTriangle is the main proponent of DOLRT.  Some of their employees' sole job is DOLRT.  If DOLRT is stopped, they lose their job.  They work 40+ hours/week doing nothing but planning for and promoting DOLRT.  During 2014-2016 GoTriangle spent $ 27M on DOLRT.  They continue to spend money at $ 700K per month.  Beginning in May 2017, that spending will increase to $ 5M per month, because they will be entering the engineering phase. 

The GoTriangle website has a lot of detail, but it's not organized in a very clear manner.  Stuff that brags about the value of light rail is very visible, but the negatives (like at-grade crossings) is buried.  Try doing a search of their site on "at grade crossing".  You'll find nothing.
2 Sunk Costs/Concorde effect

If you've spent way too much on a project, you lose face if it's abandoned.  That's the predicament GoTriangle faces if DOLRT is suddenly abandoned.  That's what happened with the Vietnam War and with the building of the Concorde.  Both had incredible amounts of money sunk into them before they were abandoned. 

 

As of December 2016, $ 27M has already been spent on DOLRT.  To abandon it now concedes that GoTriangle has wasted $27M.  "If you're in a hole, stop digging." -Will Rogers  Unfortunately, GoTriangle ignores this advice and keeps digging.

3 Developers Developers don't care about traffic, affordable housing, storm water, and green space.  They only care about lining their pockets and increasing their wealth.  Look at the map of the DOLRT and you'll see that it doesn't go down 15-501 all the way from Duke to UNC.  It detours east to go to and through the to-be-built Leigh Village development.  That detour was made to help those developers.  

[further details]  I also spoke about this subject at the December 5, 2016 Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting.  [my 3 minute speech]
4 Developers are more inclined to build along a light rail route than a bus route (March 5, 2017) Chapel Hill Town Council member Sally Greene justified the DOLRT, because developers are more inclined to build along a light rail line than a bus line.  This is because it is fixed and won't move.  Bus routes can be moved.  Developers want to build along guaranteed public transportation.  [Sally is a member of my gym and overheard me discussing light rail with School board member Pat Heinrich, a fellow gym member.]

Sally's statement underscores my basic assumption about the DOLRT - it's all about benefiting developers. 
Uninformed and/or gullible public The average citizen is too busy attending to their job, family, and home to have any time to sift through the mountains of information on light rail and other political issues.  Because of their lack of understanding, they believe the myths that have been propagated about DOLRT.
6 Selective presentation/acceptance of information

When presented with a boatload/trainload of information, it's human nature for a person to place value on those tidbits which are consistent with his/her opinion and reject or trivialize anything which contradicts their opinion.  This happened repeatedly during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

 

In the case of the DOLRT, the proponents embrace "alleged facts" such as traffic, environmental, and jobs benefits of DOLRT ... without questioning those assertions ... , but they ignore the negatives.  "Don't confuse me with the facts."

 

I've begun reading a book on this phenomenon, "The Righteous Mind - Why good people are divided by politics and religion" by Jonathan Haidt (2012).

7 "Property values will rise" People near or along the route are enthusiastic about the DOLRT because they see it as increasing their property value.
8 "DOLRT will be expanded" Some people know that DOLRT won't serve their location, but they endorse it because they view DOLRT as a start.  They expect that after it is finished, DOLRT will be expanded to cover other locations (Carrboro, Hillsborough, RDU airport).  Charlotte is looking to expand their light rail system.  However, that expansion will cost Charlotte $ 6B.  You can get get faster expansion and cover a wider area for less cost by going with cheaper solutions ... like Bus Rapid Tarnsit (BRT).
9 False facts (February 11, 2017 at a Durham PAC-3 meeting) Durham Mayor Bill Bell said "If DOLRT wasn't a good plan, the Federal government would not have approved it."

This is false.  (January 18, 2017 email from the Federal Transit Administration/FTA to Ken Larsen) "The decision of how best to provide transit services within a specific geographic region is not made by the federal government; rather, it is the responsibility of local decision makers. Local officials are closest to the unique circumstances of their area and are in the best position to consider all relevant factors. Although the federal government provides funding to assist local governments in constructing transit capital improvements, decisions regarding what projects to pursue and in what corridors are determined locally. Information on what is required to be eligible for the various FTA grant programs can be found on our website at www.fta.dot.gov. Typically, but not always, proposed light rail transit projects pursue FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program funding. For this program, our website contains detailed information on the webpage found at http://www.fta.dot.gov/12304.html. 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. Meanwhile, we encourage people to share questions, concerns, and observations with local and regional officials, including your local transit agency, which is Go Triangle and the region’s metropolitan planning organization (MPO), known as the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro (DCHC) MPO and which has a public participation process. You can contact the Go Triangle at (919) 485-7490 or at http://www.gotriangle.org/news. The DCHC MPO can be reached at (919) 560-4366 or at http://www.dchcmpo.org/default.asp."

 


Ken Larsen's home page