It’s now official, in case you were wondering: North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad region — comprising Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, and surrounding communities — is just as loony as Charlotte and the Triangle are.
More precisely, I should say, the Triad can now boast just as many loony politicians and bureaucrats as can be found in the other metro areas. My proof is the revelation that Triad officials are seriously considering the construction of a regional mass transit system that could cost more than $2 billion.
As a native of Charlotte and an 18-year resident of the Triangle, I admit to being more familiar with their development patterns than I am that of the Triad, where I have been only a frequent visitor. Still, I feel no compunction about stating that the Triad makes even less sense for transit than the others do. Charlotte, at least, is a real city, not a “region.” There is a downtown (in my experience, only Yankees and civic boosters oblivious to self-parody call it “Uptown”) where lots of people actually work, and an increasing number reside. I used to ride Charlotte’s buses every day to my downtown job (shine your shoes, Gov’nor?) and found the experience convenient and comfortable. Still, Charlotte is about to waste billions building and operating rail lines that will attract a relatively small share of commutes and have no noticeable impact on traffic congestion.
In the Triangle, plans continue for a rail system with an ever-increasing price tag and, at this writing, no connection to the Raleigh-Durham Airport — the one trip I might imagine making on it. As I wrote about a few weeks ago Triangle mayors are looking to hike taxes again to fund their transit fantasies, but even they aren’t talking about a $2 billion rail system.
Just to clarify, the Triad system’s price tag of more than $2 billion does not include expected annual operating subsidies for the proposed rail line, which would be about $110 million a year. A smaller-scale bus system would still have a mind-boggling cost: $735 million to build, $35 million a year to run. The region would receive much greater benefit if that money — should it turn out to be available in the first place — were devoted to maintaining and expanding local highways, including alternatives to the clogged I-40 corridor between Greensboro and Winston-Salem.
Advocates argue that building a transit system is the only way for the Triad to keep its dollars for its own purposes, rather than letting them flow to the Charlotte and Triangle projects. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a different suggestion: lobby the state and federal governments to stop funding this lunacy in the first place.