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.
Arizona has just published a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed moderate-speed (80-120 mph) passenger train between Phoenix and Tucson. The 116-mile route is projected to cost $4.2 billion to $8.4 billion depending on the route. At the low end of this range, the cost per mile would exceed $36 million, which should easily be enough to add four new lanes to the existing freeway (not that it needs them).
Louisiana wants to spend a mere $260 million for a so-called commuter train between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Since then-state governor Bobby Jindal vetoed the idea of spending $500 million on a moderate-speed train in 2009, the new proposal is for a train whose top speed over the 80-mile route would be 79-mph. Initially, as few as one train per day would go each way, which pretty much make the idea a complete joke. Despite this, the idea is popular: at a recent forum for gubernatorial candidates, most candidates agreed that the state’s infrastructure was crumbling and they supported the idea of building more infrastructure that could crumble in the future.
Massachusetts officials are once again talking about connecting Boston’s North train station (which sends all-important trains to Portland, Maine) with its South Station. The connection, which would cover less than 3 miles, is estimated to cost $2 billion to $4 billion.
Some people in Durham, NC, want to build a $1.4-billion, 17-mile light-rail line, and the region has been spending millions of dollars planning it. A quick review of the project’s alternatives analysis reveals that planners and consultants have done everything they can to bias the analysis towards rail.
A Durham transit bus in front of Durham’s $10 million downtown transit station.
The most important thing to note is that planners projected that either of two bus-rapid transit alternatives would attract more transit riders than light rail (p. 5-78) at little more than half the cost (p. 5-105). But the analysis nevertheless recommended in favor of light rail, partly because “public and agency support” supposedly favored rail over bus and partly because of rail’s “demonstrated” ability to promote compact development.