In the Big Muddy

A friend looked over GoTriangle’s newest plan to pay for the ever-escalating cost of the Nancy OatesDurham-Orange Light Rail and said Pete Seeger had it right: “We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool says to push on.”

Seeger’s ballad tells the story of an Army captain leading his platoon to cross a river without realizing that the river at that point is much deeper than when he crossed it upstream. After GoTriangle’s gleeful announcement last week that it had found a way to pay for the additional $254 million shortfall by extending the financing another eight years, I can see why “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” came to mind.

The total cost for DO-LRT has ballooned to $2.5 billion, up from the $1.8 billion a few months ago, in part because GoTriangle wisely is reporting the figures to reflect inflation. But to blithely imply that the overage has gone away because instead of paying a lump sum taxpayers will finance the amount for eight years is the sort of mindset that caused the economic implosion of 2008.

Missing from the discussion is how the counties are going to pay for an additional eight years of crushing debt. That’s not GoTriangle’s problem. The regional transit entity is raking in $700,000 per month as long as the DO-LRT notion stays alive, and that figure will rise once the engineering studies begin next month.

Chapel Hill is making plans for Bus Rapid Transit and will be competing for dollars from some of the same funding pots as DO-LRT — half-cent transit sales tax, vehicle registration fees and rental car taxes. The town expects UNC to share the cost of BRT. Will the tight-fisted state legislature, which contributes the bulk of UNC’s funding, factor in paying for DO-LRT for an additional eight years?

The new plan also erases the decision points about whether to continue into this morass of debt. When the Orange County Commissioners met in early December, the plan was that they would decide in April whether to proceed with the engineering studies. Now GoTriangle says it will start those studies in February, since it doesn’t have to wait for the counties to come up with the cash. That comes with a $70 million price tag. We’ve already heard GoTriangle say that having spent $700,000 a month for the past three years, the money would be wasted if we turned back now.

Waist deep in the Big Muddy? Or waste deep?
— Nancy Oates

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4 Comments

  1. plurimus

     /  January 9, 2017

    GoTriangle has fooled the commissioners once again. GoTriangle have performed the end run around the material changes clause that could have allowed for changes.

    Who has been responsible for managing the GoTriangle relationship on behalf of the taxpayers? Why has the news media been so reluctant to challenge the obvious obfuscations? Beside the panorama of metaphor, how do the taxpaying citizens put a stop to this nonsense?

  2. Bonnie Hauser

     /  January 9, 2017

    Unfortunately the decision point has moved out to 2020 – when we’ll be about $100 million deep in the big muddy – and for some, too late to turn back.

    If you read the plan, the funds to pay back the new loans are not committed.

    Yes feels like 2008. If the commissioners are fooled, it will be at our expense.

    Oh – and why isn’t the council asking about what happens to the funds for MLK BRT and using more transit $$ to fund the shortfall in federal funds for new buses?

  3. I too would like to see the MLK BRT idea implemented. If nothing else, it might show a viable alternative to light rail.

  4. Bonnie Hauser

     /  January 9, 2017

    Good point George. MLK BRT is about 1/10 the cost of DOLRT and serves the 2020 focus areas to UNC. It can eventually go south to Chatham Park.

    Wonder what it does to the DOLRT ridership projections?

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