Before it’s too late, stop the TTA’s misguided commuter rail project

This letter to the editor appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer on January, 17, 2003

For 10 years the Triangle Transit Authority has been pursuing a commuter rail system and has already spent $13 million on preliminary engineering and environmental studies, etc. It has committed to pay the N.C. Railroad $15 million to use 27 miles of rail corridor. Now it has “approval” to spend $57 million more in federal money that it does not have and is not assured of ever getting (news story, Jan. 11). The TTA admits the projected cost of the system has escalated to nearly three quarters of a billion dollars. It will in reality be far more, perhaps multiple billions before completion. Beside the huge cost, the TTA was wrongly given the powers of eminent domain by the legislature (against my opposition and vote) and is about to start the forced taking of properties along the route to establish passenger stations.

Now is the time for citizens to rise up in force and say “halt” to a system that will end up costing taxpayers billions and will do nothing to get people where they want to go, reduce traffic congestion or improve the environment.

I have carefully examined documents of highly qualified researchers who have studied such rail systems. One study of light rail in numerous cities found that peak-hour traffic relief was nil. For example, in Los Angeles, where there were 31,800 boardings a day, the peak-hour number of autos “eliminated” was just 123; in Baltimore, with 45,500 daily boardings, the peak-hour relief in autos displaced was 177. A similar pattern was found in at least 10 systems.

Translated for what’s being proposed here in the Triangle, we can say that if the trains carried a full load of 2,000 on every trip all day, the relief in traffic would be equal to less than half a lane’s worth of traffic on Interstate 40 for one hour’s time. A High Occupancy Vehicle lane would do far more to relieve congestion.

The TTA also cites a reduction in air pollution. Studies show light rail increases auto exhaust pollution due to the large number of vehicles stopping to wait for trains to accept and discharge passengers. The ozone problem would receive no relief.

Preventing urban sprawl is another of the rail proponents’ arguments. Recent zoning cases have provided sizable evidence that high-density “infill” is not an acceptable choice for property owners in well established neighborhoods, nor would it satisfy the desire for the little open air in one’s neighborhood wherever there is so-called sprawl.

For about a year now, Taxpayers Association members have been asked to observe TTA buses and to count the riders. Ninety-nine percent of those observed are transporting fewer than five passengers. Based on our observations and on TTA figures, every rider could be furnished a new automobile and gasoline to operate it for less than the cost of the buses.

Rubber-tired transit vehicles at least are capable of getting people where they need to go and are not limited to wherever rails can disrupt neighborhoods and traffic. A concept that we understand is being mentioned a little: coordinating and combining all the Triangle bus systems. It sounds like a solution that has merit. It certainly deserves a chance before billions are spent on a rail plan doomed to failure.

As taxpayers, we should demand that it be derailed now, before it wrecks our tax resources. Those resources are needed much more to assure essential services valuable to all our citizens. Turning off the funding faucet at both the federal and state levels is the only way to prevent a train wreck.

J. Russell Capps

President, Wake County Taxpayers Association


The writer is a Republican state representative who represents House District 50. The length limit on letters was waived.