After holding a final public hearing last night, officials in Durham, North Carolina will probably decide next week to build a $3.3 billion ($2.4 billion construction plus $900 million interest on debt) light-rail line from Durham to Chapel Hill. It is hard to imagine any place that is more poorly suited for rail transit.
The region’s population density is less than 2,000 people per square mile. Except for the universities, there are no real concentrations of jobs. The biggest job center in the region, Research Triangle Park, has about 50,000 jobs spread out over 11 square miles, but it isn’t even on the proposed light-rail line. To make matters worse, the proposed 17.7-mile rail route is so circuitous that someone on a fat-tire bicycle could probably beat the train by taking a shorter route.
When Congress passed the Urban Mass Transportation Act in 1964, did anyone think that 50 or so years later we would be spending close to $50 billion a year subsidizing transit to the tune of nearly a dollar a passenger mile and five dollars a ride? Or that, in spite of spending hundreds of billions of dollars supporting transit, per capita transit ridership would have declined by more than a third?
The transit lobby is asking Congress to protect funding for transit after the existing transportation bill expires in 2020. Significantly, they aren’t making a big deal about Trump’s proposal to stop funding New Starts, the program that would fund at least half of Durham’s boondoggle, which means they don’t expect Congress to take it seriously.
The Antiplanner used to bristle when people accused me of being anti-transit. I was only against wasteful transit, I said. The thing is, the transit industry has proven that all government transit is wasteful transit. Durham just wants to join the other cities that have taken ordinary waste and turned it up to 11.