In last week’s paper, editor Jeffrey Billman wrote about Duke’s refusal to reach an agreement with GoTriangle over the proposed light-rail line, likely dooming the project. On Thursday, Duke announced that it didn’t see the point in mediated negotiations—it was out. 

“I’m a general contractor, Duke alum, and Durham resident,” writes Andrew Imlay. “So I carefully read Duke’s explanations of its objections to light rail. After a mere hour on Google, I understood the lay of the land regarding the actual construction risks, their abatement, and research medical centers’ experiences with light rail. Duke’s objections to rail construction are bogus, and Duke knows it—Duke regularly builds high-risk projects like, say, state-of-the-art hospital additions. They know damn well how to manage unusual risks. They are therefore using construction risk, a subject I actually know about, to pretend to the public that light rail presents insurmountable difficulties. In fact, Duke only needs to value the public’s well-being a tiny bit more than Duke values its own pettiest conveniences. Duke’s decision shows who matters and who doesn’t to Duke.”

“By leading on the DOLRT planners and giving years of implicit and explicit support before abandoning them at the altar, Duke comes off as an entitled, selfish jerk indifferent to its community,” adds Chris Brodie. “You can’t deny that Duke is an enclave of entitlement, regardless of its merits. Maybe those merits are why the DOLRT decision feels like such a stab in the back, a jilted-at-the-altar, Charlie-Brown-kicking-the-football feeling. I want to believe the best of Duke; it’s Durham’s biggest asset, bar none. But this bad-faith action suggests I’ve been fooling myself, that at the highest levels, they don’t much care about Durham at all.”

“Shame on Duke,” writes John Schelp. “For more than twenty years, Duke has manufactured one excuse after another. Now, suddenly, nearby research buildings will be harmed. Please. Trains roll past hospitals all over this country. The DC Metro subway rumbles right past the NIH campus research buildings—and they’re the largest funder of biomedical research in the world. One must wonder if Duke is opposed to light rail for the same reason Georgetown University was opposed to Metro rail in the 1970s: University officials didn’t want a connection to the other side of DC.”

Jim Doughty, however, argues that the story’s central argument doesn’t hold up: “As an opponent of the Durham-Orange Light Rail plan, I’m grateful to Billman for his acknowledgment that it isn’t a one-sided issue. However, the argument he considers paramount—‘voters approved a sales tax hike to fund light rail’—isn’t that simple. Yes, voters in Durham (2011) and Orange (2012) Counties approved sales tax hikes for transit improvements. I was one of them. Yes, light rail was clearly a focal point of the discussion then. But voters were presented with this picture: The tax would fund both bus and rail improvements. The rail service would be regional, with connections to the Research Triangle Park and Raleigh. Durham County leaders acknowledged the rail commitment shouldn’t happen—and collection of the tax shouldn’t even start—until all three Triangle counties were on board.

“In 2019, we know none of that happened. In 2011 and 2012, voters did not think they were supporting a single fixed line from one university to another. I have serious objections to the project. Mr. Billman and other serious people find reasons to support it. Let’s keep arguing if the need persists. But a ‘defense of democracy’ does not work in this case to sweep all other questions before it.”

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