CIVITAS: Duke University Has Opportunity to Derail Durham-Orange Light Rail Boondoggle

DURHAM – When we hear about exorbitantly expensive light rail projects that scream past their budgets to saddle taxpayers with debt and never actually live up to the service they were constructed to provide, we might think more California than Carolina.

Alas, there are some pockets of the Old North State whose Big Government streaks wold be more at home on the Left Coast, it seems. That is evident in the Durham/Chapel Hill area where, for years, there has been a concerted effort to construct a $2.5 billion light rail line to serve the people’s transportation needs.

The “opportunity” for a light rail line now hinges on a decision from Duke University about whether or not it will grant land rights to the project. Brian Balfour of the Civitas Institute outlines why Duke should demur:

The latest hurdle holding up the Durham-Orange light rail money pit appears to be a decision regarding needed land currently held by Duke University. From the Durham Herald-Sun:

Federal lawmakers sent a letter to Duke University’s president Friday to remind him that a pending land decision could “make or break” the Durham-Orange light-rail project.

Local elected officials will follow up Tuesday with a visit to Duke President Vincent Price. Durham County Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs said she hopes the meeting results in a letter of support from Duke for right-of-way donations.

No doubt the county commissioners will try to sell Mr. Price on the benefits of the rail line. But in reality, the crony boondoggle project would be a major burden on taxpayers, serve a tiny fraction of local travelers, and amount to little more than a taxpayer giveaway to politically connected developers.

Light rail is arguably the least efficient means of transporting people ever invented. I’ve written specifically about the Durham-Orange line and just what a massive waste of resources it would be. And given the track record of light rail projects drastically exceeding projected costs, the figures would likely end up being far worse.

The Durham-Orange Light Rail line is about  fourteen times  more expensive per mile  than an average four-lane highway.

Furthermore, the Durham-Orange light-rail line is  projected to 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 meaning a four-lane highway could accommodate 8,800 cars per hour. For the same amount of money, DOT could build nearly  250 miles worth of four-lane highways. Which option do you think would best mitigate congestion?

Duke University’s president should be aware of what a corrupt and colossal waste of taxpayer dollars this project would be.

Already the university president has rebuffed federal authorities, rejecting the plan unless significant changes are made. They made lots of requests to mitigate their concerns, but none on the issue of it being a giant waste of money, as Balfour says. Let’s hope the private status of the university will help it see past the empty arguments for ‘public good’ and help taxpayers avoid this boondoggle.

More about Duke’s response.

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