Wib Gulley letter: Brinegar is wrong about light rail

A GoTriangle illustration of a Durham-Orange Light Rail stop.
A GoTriangle illustration of a Durham-Orange Light Rail stop. Contributed

To the Editor:

I have appreciated the contributions that McKinney advertising company and its Chair Brad Brinegar have made to revitalizing a part of Durham’s downtown. It’s too bad I cannot say the same about his recent column criticizing the Durham-Orange light rail project (DOLRT).

His column is filled with misinformation and factual errors, and it’s impossible to address them all in one letter. Here are a few of the main problems. He protested the closing of a street in downtown Durham, which was pushed on the agency by railroad partners just a few weeks earlier. GoTriangle then figures out a way to keep the street open, although it adds some significant cost to the project, and now he complains about project costs going up. Really?

He says he spoke up for a regional light rail system in the Triangle, but he fails to realize that the DOLRT is one of the key rail segments of the regional plan adopted by elected officials almost a decade ago. How did he miss the fact that the DOLRT is the first step among several in implementing our adopted regional plan for rail?

He also misses the fact that the rail line from Durham to Raleigh (and RDU) is a part of that regional plan. But Wake County’s years of delay in joining Durham and Orange in moving forward on the plan has slowed work on that segment. Durham and Orange cannot plan or build a rail line to Raleigh by themselves.

The most misguided part of the column is the notion that HOV lanes for buses, or Bus Rapid Transit, would be an alternative. Real BRT costs only slightly less than light rail to build, and the operating costs are much higher (labor and equipment costs). And any partial BRT would leave the buses stuck with all the cars in our growing congestion.

The DOLRT is expensive. Actually, all major transportation infrastructure projects are expensive, including I-40, RDU’s additional runway, and similar projects. The real question is if the DOLRT’s costs are reasonable. When compared to other recent and current light rail projects in the US, the costs are well within reason. The experts at the federal agency that oversees all transit projects in the US would not have permitted it to go forward if that was not the case. The real question for our community, then, is do we sincerely want to support rail transit by moving forward with DOLRT, or do we want to start all over again with the 15-20 years of planning and work that it will take to address some of the worst congestion issues in the region?

The distressing aspect of it all is that Mr. Brinegar could easily have sat down with elected officials, transit staff, or people in the community with more knowledge and expertise who would have been happy to talk with him. He could have discussed his concerns and come to see that his notions were indeed “cockamamie” before jumping to put them in print.

Wib Gulley


The writer is a former mayor of Durham and member of the NC Senate.