The N&O today is celebrating because there was a step forward in the process to soak Triangle taxpayers for a wildly inefficient, crony boondoggle: the proposed Durham-Orange light rail.
Fortunately the process took a strong surge forward last week with a green light from the Federal Transit Administration to move the 17.7-mile light-rail project into the engineering phase. This step will be the last design step. With the blueprint complete, the federal government will decide whether to provide 50 percent of the project’s $2.47 billion cost.
$2.47 billion cost? Just last spring, the estimates for the project were $1.6 billion. That’s more than a 50% increase in cost estimates – before the project has even broken ground!
Moreover, light rail projects are notorious for running well over estimated costs – for instance Charlotte’s light rail boondoggle exceeded projected costs by about 2-½ times. When it’s all said and done, the Durham Orange line could very well exceed $5 billion in costs.
Moreover, light rail is a horribly inefficient way to fund transportation needs. Seventeen miles of rail line at
$1.6 billion $2.47 billion comes to more than $145 million per mile, and that is on the slight chance the project actually comes in according to projected costs. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders association, 4-lane urban highways can be built for roughly $8-$10 million per mile. The Durham-Orange County line is about fourteen times more expensive per mile than a four-lane highway. And light-rail moves a tiny fraction of the number of commuters as highways do.
The Durham-Orange County light-rail line is projected to carry on average 622 passengers per hour (light rail ridership often falls short of estimates, too). Conversely, highways can accommodate 2,200 cars per lane per hour. Thus, a four-lane highway could accommodate 8,800 cars per hour. For the same amount of money, DOT could build nearly 250 miles worth four-lane highways. Which option do you think would mitigate congestion more?
In this case, light rail would be fourteen times more expensive than a 4-lane highway, but carry only about 7 percent as many commuters.
And worst of all, taxpayers will be forced to pay for this terribly inefficient boondoggle. And the N&O says this is worth celebrating?