Commentary by Richard Chady

The Durham Orange Light Rail Transit (DOLRT) plan is the unicorn destined to become a white elephant.

When proposed years ago, perhaps it seemed to be the ideal response to growth, even a status symbol for our expanding metropolitan area.

But the plan always provided a limited benefit to Orange County.  Light rail only serves a tiny sliver of the county and doesn’t provide any direct benefit to most of the area from Carrboro to Mebane.  It doesn’t run to the airport or the Research Triangle Park.

Now after many delays and changes in the funding formula, the plan has come off the rails.  It threatens to impose crippling costs on Durham and Orange taxpayers.

The estimated cost has ballooned to $3 billion.  The federal government currently is committed to paying half; the state will chip in up to 10 percent.  The rest, including any cost overruns, will fall onto Durham and Orange taxpayers.

Although voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase for mass transit in 2012, the new plan to borrow nearly $1 billion will tie up all of that amount until 2062.  If there are unexpected costs (a distinct possibility), it may require a property tax hike to finance rail and other basic services.

No one would sign a mortgage where the banker says, “I can’t tell you (a) what your monthly payments are, or (b) how long you’ll pay or (c) what the total cost will be. But you must sign NOW.”

Because the county must give its commitment to the federal government by April 30, that’s what’s happening.  DOLRT is an adjustable rate mortgage with no interest rate ceiling.

I know the county commissioners take their role as good stewards of our finances seriously.  I hope they’ll do the common-sense, financially prudent step and admit that DOLRT doesn’t meet our needs and is WAY beyond our means.  Instead, let’s have an affordable transportation network that works for all.

Expanded use of buses, including in dedicated lanes, is a quicker, cheaper, and more flexible option than gambling our future and our finances on DOLRT. (Chapel Hill Transit already plans for a dedicated bus line along Martin Luther King Blvd. from Eubanks Rd. to Southern Village.)

If you’re interested in showing your concern, show up at the BOCC meeting at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Rd. in Chapel Hill at 7:00 p.m., Tuesday, April 18.