A few weeks ago, a letter in this column asked where Durham’s leaders were on light rail. Lorisa Seibel of the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit writes that it’s time for the Bull City’s business community to get on board. 

“Durham’s growing fast,” Seibel writes. “More than twenty people a day and seven thousand people a year move here. On average, new Durham residents earn $10,000 a year more than current residents. That extra $10,000 means more cars and higher housing prices. People who have to move further out will need to drive more.

“If we do nothing, more cars will make more traffic jams. Buses will keep trying to squeeze through congested roads to and from our downtown station. People will wait and hope to get to work on time. 

“Who loses if we do nothing? The mother who commutes two-to-four hours per day on two buses to and from child care, then two more buses to and from work. The father who works two minimum-wage jobs because he cannot find a $15-an-hour job on a bus line. What can we do? The city and county want light rail as the backbone of an efficient transit station with crosstown buses and affordable housing. People can hop on light rail instead of sitting in traffic jams. They can catch a bus at any light rail station. 

“Light-rail stations with buses and affordable housing could improve economic opportunities for all of us. Affordable housing around every transit station allows Durham residents of all incomes to live just a short walk to transit. We need to invest in light rail, buses, and affordable housing. Then all of us can live and prosper in Durham.”

Rob VanDewoestine counters that, by committing to light rail, the region may be biting off more than it can chew: “Several very legitimate issues have been recently raised concerning the manner in which the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project may cause traffic problems where they do not exist today, but there is potentially an even greater issue with the project cost and timing estimates. The city of Honolulu is in the middle of a light-rail construction project twenty miles in length and with many design elements similar to the Durham proposal. Where does the Honolulu project stand?

“The original Honolulu project cost projection in 2006 was $3 billion without cars. With construction underway in 2011, the cost went up to $5 billion. With about half the line in place, the current estimate is $8.3 billion, not including financing, which is expected to take the project over $10 billion. In addition, it is still expected to take until 2025 to complete the last half of the line. 

“In light of their experience, it is hard to see how the $3.1 billion cost proposal for the Durham light rail (including financing) and the five-year construction time are not grossly underestimated. The project likely represents a future obligation that will vastly exceed any benefits and Durham’s ability to pay. There are so many new technologies for flexible transportation coming in the next ten years. Spending billions on a fixed rail line locks Durham into technology that will likely be obsolete the day the line opens.”

“Spending billions on a fixed rail line locks Durham into technology that will likely be obsolete the day the line opens.”

On Friday, Sarah Willets reported that six residents of Culp Arbor, a fifty-five-and-up community near a planned light rail maintenance facility, have sued to block the facility from opening. Community First responds: “The plaintiffs are NIMBYs who have just moved to the area who are trying to stop a transit plan that’s been thirty years in the works. If they were truly unaware of the transit plan, perhaps they should complain to their realtor. This is a site right beside I-40, where the traffic count is one hundred thousand cars per day—hardly a quiet, wilderness-like area. This lawsuit is the height of absurdity, putting a privileged few above what’s best for the entire community.”

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