Triangle transit plans face red lights


Raleigh, NC – Two recent news stories show how big transit plans are already causing financial strain in the Triangle, even before all the plans are drawn up.

Previous Civitas articles and blog posts have explained why multi-billion-dollar Durham-Orange Light Rail Project is an outdated boondoggle. But it has rolled ahead, until now.

Durham and Orange counties are bickering over how to divide the local costs. Durham now pays 77 percent. But as the expenses come into focus, one Orange county commissioner is objecting to the plan, saying it could leave her county strapped for cash, and she wants Durham to pay more. According to a news report, over the next 45 years, Orange County could be paying up to $10 million each year to pay toward light rail, with very little margin for error.  For example, the county could have as little as $210,725 for extra costs in 2045. That’s peanuts for such a big project.

Worse, every transportation project in human history has cost more than expected.

So Orange County would be spending, say, $10 million a year for 45 years on light rail, and the county won’t have much cash to pay for cost overruns or emergencies when they happen, and they will.

Durham County officials, however, are balking at the idea of chipping in more, because Durham is also building a commuter rail line to Wake.

In short, the light-rail and commuter lines aren’t even built, yet already the finances are causing consternation in two counties. It’s not clear how it will shake out — but another development could be a bigger roadblock anyway.

That’s because, the news media report, President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would slash federal funds essential to these transit projects in the Triangle.

The president’s 2018 spending plan would reportedly only fund New Starts transportation projects that have already won grants from the Federal Transit Administration.

The regional transit planning agency, GoTriangle, has been counting on that federal money: about half the total of $2.5 billion for the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project, plus about $440 million for the Wake-Durham commuter rail line, and $170 million for a Wake bus-rapid transit system.
The state has already capped how much it will fund transit projects. If the fed money falls through, Durham, Wake and Orange counties would be hard-pressed to pay for such grandiose visions.
A lot can happen. Members of Congress do like to bring that bacon home — especially since the final bills will come in after current legislators have retired. But these Triangle transit plans are now facing new obstacles. Travelers and taxpayers would be better served by other, more modern options.