John Locke Update / Research Newsletter (Archive)

In this Issue: Sanity returns to rail planning, and King and Cooke agree: transit plan will not solve traffic congestion

posted on in Local Government

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1. Charlotte, NC Senate, and the US House return to rail sanity

In an unexpected return to sanity, the Charlotte city council and the NC Senate have put the brakes on Charlotte’s new Blue Line light rail extension, as reported by Charlotte’s WFAE here.

[Charlotte] City council members rejected a plan to raise taxes for street and sidewalk projects that would support the rail line.

…[Mayor] Foxx said the council’s vote against that money comes just when the federal government is deciding whether Charlotte deserves the half-a-billion-dollar transit construction grant its requested.

…But even as council members were voting Monday night, they knew lawmakers in Raleigh had introduced a budget amendment to prohibit the use of state transportation funds for light rail in Mecklenburg County.

Charlotte is counting on the state to cover a quarter of the $967 million construction cost of the Blue Line Extension. The senate budget amendment would force the Blue Line to compete for money with road projects such as Independence Boulevard and I-485.

A new wind is blowing in the legislature and the Charlotte experience should be a wake up call for Triangle supporters of rail transit.  Wake, Durham, and Orange counties should not count on the state legislature using scarce taxpayer dollars to fund expensive rail transit that carries less than one percent of passenger miles traveled in the Triangle. 

That wind is also blowing in the halls of Congress where the transportation bill is currently being debating. The House version of the bill attempts to put some limits on the deficit spending in the Highway Trust Fund, supported by gasoline user taxes, which has been raided for runaway spending on expensive rail projects such as the one in Charlotte and the one proposed for the Triangle. 

Or in the words of Cato Institute’s transportation expert Randal O’Toole:

In addition to ending the 2005 [transportation] bill’s mandatory spending, it [the House bill] completely eliminates earmarks and rededicates gas taxes to highways and put them all in formula funds. The [Highway Trust Fund] deficit spending is almost all for transit, and while the bill still includes a [rail transit] New Starts program, it insists that [new rail] projects be judged using firm quantitative criteria, not meaningless terms like livability.

It’s looking more and more like the smoke and mirrors provided by transit supporters will no longer win the day.  In this time of budget crunches, hard evidence of costs and benefits of rail transit is demanded, and supporters continually fall short of producing any hard evidence to support their claims. 

2. King and Cooke state flatly that the Wake County Transit Plan will not solve the traffic congestion problem.

That’s right!  Triangle Transit’s CEO David King and Wake County Manager David Cooke agree that the Wake County Transit Plan, if fully implemented, will not solve the traffic congestion problem in the county.   This N&O letter-to-the-editor quotes their statements during a transit debate between them and Dr. David Hartgen, the author of the John Locke Foundation study of the Wake County Transit Plan.


At the June 11 Wake County Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Betty Lou Ward stated: "It seems to me as our population grows…we are going to need to have that mass transportation to relieve the roads."

"It seems to me" is not good enough when it comes to spending a huge amount of taxpayer dollars.

In Raleigh, at the March 8, 2012 forum, "Wake County in Transit: Is Now the Time?", County Manager David Cooke answered a question about the alleviation of traffic congestion on the roads. He stated: "We are not implying or promising that, if we invest in transit, that [sic] we would have eliminated congestion or dramatically changed it whatsoever."

David King, Triangle Transit CEO and general manager, added (holding up his arm with bent elbow at an angle about 45 degrees): "If this is the curve of the rate of increase of congestion; if we implement the plan; then that curve will come down somewhat" (lowers arm to an angle just above bottom level), "but there will still be an increase in congestion. To suggest that this is a way to reduce congestion — nobody on our team ever said that."

Wynne Coleman


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Michael Sanera is Director of Research and Local Government Studies at the John Locke Foundation. He served as a policy analyst for the Washington, DC based The Heritage Foundation, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the California based Claremont Institute. ...

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