Friday, October 03, 2008

CATS boss: Build it now, or never

CATS chief Keith Parker thinks the 2030 Transit Plan -- the one with four more corridors plus a streetcar system -- should become a plan for 2018.

He told a transportation forum this week: "If we don't build the 2030 plan before 2030, it will be hopelessly unaffordable."

He said rising construction costs could price the expansions out of reach if the Metropolitan Transit Commission hews to its timetable. And with "a modest increase in revenue" it could be done within the next 10 years, he said.

The idea isn't at all crazy. Denver is doing something similar. Its light rail debuted in the 1990s but never got expanded. A few years back a coalition of the Chamber of Commerce, mayors and environmental leaders backed a regionwide system of six lines at $4.7 billion, to be paid with a sales tax. Voters OK'd it in 2004, even without a commitment of federal support. (The estimated price now is $7.9 billion. You can see why Parker is worried.)

In Charlotte, Parker said, the success of the Lynx Blue Line has everyone demanding transit. "Everybody wants rail. Everybody wants it now."

I'd gladly pony up a fraction more on the sales tax if it meant faster construction of trains to north Mecklenburg, University City and good transit service to the airport and out Indy Boulevard.


Anonymous said...

Has there ever been a government boondoggle unsupported by the Observer editorial staff? Of course prices are going to go up. Inflation should be built into anyone's numbers. And something unbuilt in 10 years will be cheaper than something unbuilt in 20 years ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Rick said...

And no - Mary, Tober, Mumford, McCrory, and others weren't lying through their teeth when they said it would stay within the current 1/2 cent tax were they?

To all those who bought into the idea that it would spare them further tax burdens if they only paid the blackmail last time, well this is the "I told you so" moment.

Anonymous said...

After 2030 rail transit will be unaffordable? How about in 2080? Maybe by then the city won't be as populated and the rail won't be needed.

Hopefully by 2030 we'll be driving cars run on hydrogen.

Cato said...

And again, with rising gas prices and increased demand for alternatives - primarily for weekday commuting - why would we spend one more dime on rail? Sure the Lynx line has exceeded ridership expectations. All well and good. But bus service remains drastically cheaper to implement, is infinitely more flexible and can be deployed more quickly.

Oh, I forgot, buses don't have the cachet of rail or offer smart-growthers the opportunity to shove their vision of the city down everyone else's throat.

And before we go down this road, I'd be curious to see how much more revenue an increase in the transit tax could be expected to generate vs. the cost of accelerating construction. And WITH inflation estimates included this time.

James said...

A real boondoggle is building more roads. Who is going to drive on them when gas, a finite commodity, hits $5, $10, $20 a gallon? By 2030 we may have poisoned our air so severely that we can't even leave our homes. Are we going to be a city of the 20th century, and keeping promoting backwards 20th century transportation? Or are we going to be a city of the future, investing in clean, smart transportation that encourages sustainable urban growth?

Anonymous said...

That's an odd take, James: you're locked in on the idea of fuel cost per mile with constantly rising to finally become unaffordable, when in fact adjusted for inflation there's little evidence to support the idea. You're convinced that cars will poison the air, but apparently are unaware of how utterly outdated that fear is.

Whatever makes you think internal combustion engines burning gasoline is the only way to move a car or bus?

Anonymous said...

I support the YES RAIL NOW (esp for Independence)! sentiment. I want to see the street car project moving too. It's and important cross-city link. However, I think that planners need to do a better job for forcasting costs. If sales tax revenues are down due to an economic downturn, we need to account for that. However, I think think that keeping jobs in the CLT region with infrastructre projects is a good way to support ourselves - very WPA.

BTW - we still need LIGHTS on Independence!

Uncle Dennis said...

Does anyone think that oil is not running our, or at least on the decline?

Does anyone think that the rapid capitalization of China and India, and the BILLIONS of people that live there, will not take the majority of the oil produced?

Does anyone believe that the switch to a Hydrogen car is cost free?

Does anyone think that a switch to a hydrogen car, at a cost of probably $30,000 each, is more cost affordable than the continuation of the %50 per year tax to support transit? Let's say the tax cost actually goes to $300 per year, that cost would last 100 years.

Has anyone figured the retooling of refilling these hydrogen vehicles, and what that cost will be, and who will burden it?

The bold solution to an uncertain future is to develop transit lines, and get them underway as soon as possible.


Cato said...

Many rail boosters seem to justify rail by invoking the possibility of an energy apocalypse, but of an oddly limited sort.

If we get to the point that gas is $20 a gallon, and there is no serious alternative to gas-powered automobiles, then cities like Charlotte, the location of which was determined by the discovery of now-exhausted gold, will turn into ghost towns. There's no underlying reason that most of the work that is done here has to be done here. People will migrate to areas adjacent to navigable waterways and with substantial heavy rail networks, and near good farmland. (As an aside, one pet project of some urbanites is to replace the rail yard north of uptown with a park or some other amusement.) Otherwise, how do food and other goods get in and out of town?

In short, if it gets as bad as they say it will, whether we have one commuter rail line or five won't matter. We'll all be living in places like Wilmington, Charleston and Chicago.

But take comfort, life there will be very urban.

Anonymous said...

First off, I’m not an opponent of Char-Meck’s light-rail program. I voted against the attempt to repeal the sales tax. As a city resident living within two miles of the Blue Line, I’ve benefited from it and see its usefulness. But there is something I hope someone here can clarify:

All the current and proposed light-rail lines lie entirely within the present boundaries of the city of Charlotte and/or Mecklenburg County, correct? The current half-cent sales tax which finances the current line applies to purchases made within Mecklenburg County (and Charlotte), correct? Or have Union, Gaston, Cabarrus, Lincoln, Catawba, Iredell, Rowan, Stanley and Catawba counties in North Carolina, and York in South Carolina, enacted a half-cent sales tax that goes toward extending and operating the lines?

All these counties and their present and/or future populace certainly stand to benefit from my city-county’s light rail lines. Or is the transit plan truly “regional” in that ALL OF US in this region will be chipping in to pay the cost? What are the residents of York County in South Carolina, who certainly benefit from present line, currently paying toward the Lynx? Will those who work in Char-Meck be chipping in to help expand the already overburdened parking facilities at the I-485 station? Do we know if they are buying here and paying their part of the half-cent tax?

Why, for example, would a new resident want to move into Mecklenburg County or buy the existing house of a Charlottean when he or she can build their McMansion in southern Iredell, taking more green space from Farmer Brown’s pasture or woods, paying less property and sales tax, and also hopping onto the light-rail just a few miles away in Mecklenburg County, financed by someone else, to carry them to big-buck jobs in center city? (At least assuming we’ll still have big-buck jobs there post-Wachovia).

I’m for helping our own city and county residents by extending light rail into the University area, along Independence Blvd. and to the northern part of our county. It increases our own citizenry’s real estate values and reduces their cost of living. But charity should begin at home.

So please tell me again why we are building light-rail lines into or near those counties to encourage more people to live there rather than in Charlotte?

Anonymous said...

You need to be able to interpret "gov-speak".

Parker said "Everybody wants rail."

Translation: All the remorras that feed off Charlotte and Mecklenburg County want light-rail. They just don't want to pay for it.

Anonymous said...

I argee with this idea wholeheartedly. Let's knock this project out now and really make Charloteb a true, dynamic, forward thinking center. it's too bad some naysayer on this board still pooh-pooh the concept even though the popularity of it is right in front of them.

Anonymous said...

Exactly! Why let some naysayer on this board pooh-pooh the concept even though you obviously haven't thought about all the ramifications and don't want to hear about them?

What do these Char-Meck naysayers who are paying for others' benefits think this is? A democratic republic?

Anonymous said...

If we could get ALL the counties in this region to chip in with a half-cent sales tax, we could knock this project out now.

Rick said...

Mary, why don't you tell all your supporters why these other counties can't contribute with their own 1/2 cent transit tax? You are usually very quick to point out nasty little legal issues when they benefit you. Sadly, you don't seem to feel the same way about printing the truth when it doesn't.

You see recent anons, these other counties don't have the same permission from the state to even vote on such a tax. In our area of the state, only Mecklenburg has permission for a specific half cent tax for mass transit.

Now, these other counties as well as Mecklenburg do have permission to implement a 1/4 cent tax for any use they want. That permission was granted last year.

When Mary says at the end of her post...

"I'd gladly pony up a fraction more on the sales tax if it meant faster construction of trains to north Mecklenburg, University City and good transit service to the airport and out Indy Boulevard."

..that 1/4 cent is likely what she's talking about for Mecklenburg.

That 1/4 cent should be set asside for CMS construction needs, or roads, or supporting the criminal justice system if it is used at all.

Mary wants to use it for more transit. She just doesn't have the nerve to come out and say it - yet.

Tell us Mary, did Mr Parker mention that 1/4 cent in your discussions?

One would hope that after being lied to about the costs of rail transit last year the voters would not be fooled twice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rick, for the information. (I’m the Anon who originally brought up the subject of regional non-participation.)

Since Mary pointed out Denver’s apparent success in regional financing of light-rail lines, I assume she was hinting that the same could be done here. But I haven’t seen the mayors and commissioners of our neighboring communities and counties lining up in Raleigh to petition legislators.

And even though I voted to keep our half-cent transit tax, I’ll be darned if I’ll want even a quarter-cent more for light-rail unless all those who benefit pay their share.

That quarter-cent you mentioned would be better spent on projects that benefit Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"More rail!"

Why do we need more rail to ride you out of town on a rail?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Build it now, or never?

Fine: Never, you big fearmongering blackmailer.

And once we've consigned the multibillion dollar light rail system to the dustbin, we can concentrate on finding ways to use our EXISTING road network more efficiently. It already goes EVERYWHERE you'd want to go, unlike rail which is only good for going from A to B, not C, D, and E which are miles away.

Let's talk about hydrogen-powered buses. Let's talk about encouraging telecommuting so people don't have to travel as much to work in the first place. Let's talk about encouraging people to live closer to their jobs.

But enough of this antiquated, 19th century RAIL nonsense.

Progress is scary said...

If the energy apocalypse does come, and everyone needs to move to a sustainable population center...Consider that with enough progressive thought, Charlotte could be one of those sustainable population centers.
Would you prefer to have to pack up and move your belongings and your family to another city or already live in a destination for others to pack up and move to.

Anonymous said...

You know, you liberals might have more success with your arguments if you'd stop using the word "progressive". A lot of us are so sick of that word being used as if it's a positive thing that you might as well substitute an obscenity in its place. "Progressive" policies are one of the main reasons our economy is headed for the toilet right now, what with government-mandated loans to people who cannot repay them and an extremely generous policy of forgiveness to people who've messed up in a serious way.

"Progressive" = "idiotic", if you ask me.

Rick said...

So it looks like the Observer has taken to deleting all comments when they lead to a little honesty.

Here’s a recap of the misleading statements in Steve Harrison's latest Dr Traffic article. They are on the subject of the latest cost estimate increases on the Northeast Corridor.

Interestingly the Observer had everyone’s comments deleted soon after these were posted today. I suppose that was to just give the appearance of being unbiased.

This article is nothing but a list of excuses for why the cost overage happened. It leaves out so much relevant information that the reader could not possibly make an informed opinion

The Northeast Corridor to UNCC now is estimated at $900m - up from $750m just a few short months ago.

First, Mr Harrison’s article does not tell you that the current preliminary engineering effort is only going to be at about the 15% design level for the Northeast Corridor. The project is already 20% over the initial estimate of $750 million. What will it be when they get to 100% design? Remember, nice round figures like 20% are always suspicious. Most glaringly he doesn't mention any of the known issues of going onto the UNCC campus. Those will add many millions more to this effort. As a contrast, the North Corridor commuter line will be at 100% design next year according to the CATS presentation at the recent public forums. Cost estimates for that project should be much more solid in the near future.

Second, Mr Harrison’s article states that the project is already delayed 2 years, and implies the cause was last year’s transit repeal effort. The transit repeal effort did not get enough signatures until 05/31/07 to even be on the ballot. It was only on the ballot for 5 months. However, using CATS math, that translates into 2 years of delay. CATS says they stopped work because of the ballot initiative. Ok, then why were the RFPs for preliminary design sent out just weeks after the repeal failed. The reason is that CATS did not stop work. They weren’t ready to send out the RFPs to move forward before the vote, but they pulled it together very quickly afterwards. This means they were either already almost done with them prior to the vote, or they were working on them at the time of the repeal effort. Those kinds of documents simply don't get thrown together that quickly. Either way, the repeal did not cause the delay. Saying this delay was caused by the repeal debate is nothing more than a scare tactic to keep the public from ever questioning CATS again.

Third, Mr Harrison’s article says that CATS is going to lobby for 80% Federal funding for the North Commuter line and the Streetcars. Interesting, at the recent North Corridor public forums, Mr Parker and his presenter repeatedly stated that the North Corridor doesn’t qualify for Federal funding at all – at least not through the FTA. Is there another federal source or earmark that has popped up in the past few weeks? If so, will accessing that source result in an overall delay in the projects? Hopefully, the Northern towns will have the stones to pull out of the MTC if there is a delay on their project with money being funneled to the Northeast line. The Northern precincts were strongly in favor of keeping the transit tax due to the MTC vote that kept the Commuter Rail on track to be next in line. Changing that now would be very un-democratic.

Forth, Mr Harrison’s article requires that the reader believe that CATS didn’t know about these possible issues prior to last November’s vote. They did, but they didn’t tell you.

Remember all these things when they come asking for more money saying "it's all we need!!! We really mean it!!!"

Anonymous said...

You may have hit upon something, Cato.

I've been wondering why the sudden interest in the few houses for sale in my close-in hood. One guy down the street hasn't yet put up a sign, but folks driving through saw the moving van. Good school district, easy access to bus and rail, quick walk to gym, restaurants and shops.

Re progessive = idiotic. I didn't realize that our traditionally "conservative" lending institutions had been nationalized. And maybe we can finance more light rail by those "conservative" pick-a-payment or interest-only methods.

Seems to me that "conservative = gone from office" at the next election. All those 600,000 new young voters in NC will eat you alive.

Anonymous said...

You know, you conservatives might have more success with your arguments if you'd start telling the truth by describing yourselves as what you really are - "reactionaries".

Anonymous said...

Why wouldn't anyone want to be "progressive"? Isn't "progressive" synonymous of "ahead of the curve"?
I appreciate the conservative government watchdog types out there, and you're insistence on whistle-blowing, but I never asked for your help. I can make my own decisions - and you can bet when I do, they will be "progressive."

Rick said...

I'm sure you "progressives" realize that your movement's origins started around the end of the 1800s - right? It's not at all new.

Some of the highlights of your movement include...Woodrow Wilson's arresting thousands political opponents and German Americans for exercising their free speech under the Sedition and Espionage Acts during WWI, FDR's imprisonment of the Japanese during WWII, and his mimicking of European Fascist programs such as the unconstitutional National Recovery Administration. Then you have Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, and a strong supporter of eugenics.

Progressives, every one of them.

Call me whatever you want - just please don't call me a progressive.

Anonymous said...

So to recap, we were lied to.


Anonymous said...

What I don't get is how everyone on each side of the transit issue in Charlotte has an 'either/or" mentality.

Charlotte needs public transit. Charlotte needs good roads. Charlotte needs a airport with the proper capacity.

All of these things are needed. The only question is how to pay for them all.

I, for one, am ready to put everything on the table

Raise the transit tax

Raise fares

Sell the naming rights to stations -- even an entire line (Anyone ready to ride the Bank of America red line? The DHL Yellow line? I know I am!)

Charge a special tax on property based on proximity to the stations -- after all, those property owners who benefit the most from having a station nearby should pay the most, right?

Issue construction bonds

Sell stock in CATS

Sell stock in an individual line

Partner with a private company to build and operate the system

As for the roads:

Raise the gas tax

Build toll plazas at the county line so outsiders have to pay their fair share

Raise the tax on cars

Anyone else have an idea?

broke-homeless-unemployed said...

At what point would you ever say, "No?"

Going back to the first post, I'm guessing the answer is never.

Since money seems to grow on trees in Char-Meck, maybe Wall Street should move here instead of begging for a trillion dollar handout from the Feds.

Anonymous said...


How about we just call you Dick ?

Rick said...

Like I said, call me whatever you want...I know it's much easier than posting thought out ideas. I wouldn't want you to strain yourself.


Please leave all negative comments directed at me on the blog as it shows the character and simplemindedness of those who typically debate what often turns out to be your side of the argument.

Anonymous said...

So how much is too much in order to have rail transit? Just one time I would like to see that quantified: at what point do the ridiculous apologists for the anti-democratic gov't staff system finally say, "Wait! You've gone too far!"?

The lie being told during the transit tax repeal effort was that it will never cost more than the half cent sales tax. I assure you the current lie is the price tag they're placing on the system today. The only thing we really know is that the property owners in Meck will ultimately b made to pay an amount that they would reject if the CATS folks would be honest about it