Charlotte’s success with light rail

The Charleston paper this morning has this story about Charlotte’s initial success with light rail. Note this excerpt:

The Lynx is an electric light-rail system that started running in
November and quickly exceeded ridership predictions. Near many of the
15 stations along the 9.6-mile line, new condominiums and other
buildings are under construction, and property values are rising fast.

Those of you who believe in the market as arbiter of all things should note that last bit: "property values are rising fast." That’s the mark of success. Me, I’d call it a success if they’d just extend it out to that mess around Lake Norman and relieve it just a little, so it doesn’t feel like I spend half the drive to Pennsylvania dragging through that part. You don’t actually escape the gravitational pull of that hyperdense mass until you’re 50 miles into North Carolina.

Hey, if Charlotte builds on this, and Charleston imitates it, can my Midlands Subway System be far behind?

I keep dreaming the dream anyway…

61 thoughts on “Charlotte’s success with light rail

  1. Susanna K.

    I got an email yesterday from the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor group ( saying that work on their Richmond-Petersburg-Raleigh line is going well. Look at the map on their site. If they keep going with their plans, there will be some sort of improved rail transport in Columbia (though, unfortunately, current plans don’t include connecting Cola to Charleston, Atlanta, or Charlotte).

  2. Lee Muller

    Charlotte light rail is about 300% over budget, and went broke, so they had to intimidate old people and the poor into voting for a tax increase (on other people, of course), by threatening to raise property taxes and shut down the bus service if they didn’t get another Light Rail Tax.
    An employee at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce leaked a series of emails between the Chamber, editors at the Charlotte Observer, and academics at UNC-Charlotte, which chronicled their efforts to cook up a phony economic study, feature articles, opinion columns and editorials. The president of UNCC apologized, but the editors and Chamber just refused to comment.

  3. Steve Gordy

    Lighten up, Lee. Whenever someone disagrees with you, it’s always call they are lying or have been bought out. Oh, by the way, have you checked how Union Carbide stock is doing lately?

  4. Lee Muller

    Mr. Gordy,
    Your personal insults merely expose you as knowing nothing about Charlotte light rail.
    I am just reporting the FACTS about the Charlotte Light Rail Conspiracy, which are all new to you. Contact WBT on the Rhino Times to catch up, THEN come back and discuss it.

  5. slugger

    Lee is absolutely correct. The light rail is a taxpayer nightmare. They call it the McCrory Line (he being the mayor for l0 plus years). The few that ride at $l.25 one way is a joke at the taxpayer expense.

  6. slugger

    Just wanted to add a PS.
    It is a known secret that, those that ride the light rail at night in Charlotte come into town to do their crime.

  7. Lee Muller

    Raleigh’s light rail is even a worse mess.
    Cities like them because it is another giant real estate project, where they get to condemn and confiscate property, and transfer it to their cronies, enriching themselves off thousands of taxpayers who will never get one iota of benefit.
    Right now, all of us are subsidizing cheap fares for Amtrak riders in the Boston to DC corridor, so wealthy stockbrokers can ride for pennies from their mansions in Connecticutt to their jobs on Wall Street.

  8. Jerry Anderson

    As always, South Carolina is the last to get in on the idea of light rail. We will wait until gridlock then take ten plus years to get commuter rail up and running in our fair state.
    With the incentives currently being considered in congress, We need to get our act together to link Charlotte with Columbia thru Rock Hill,Chester and the like.

  9. Lee Muller

    Light rail is promoted by a powerful lobby of construction, real estate, engineers and consultants who are creating huge incomes from the taxpayer ripoffs.
    If “we” should build light rail, the “we” had better be a private company, using investor money, not taxpayer money. If it isn’t feasible for real investors, it’s just another socialist scheme to fleece taxpayers and enrich cronies.

  10. Patrick

    Well apparently Charlotte is full of socialist schemers and willing-to-be-fleeced taxpayers. Just a few weeks before LYNX even opened, Charlotte voters rejected, by a 70-30 margin, a move by an anti-rail coalition to suspend the 1/2 cent transit tax. This is despite the poor management, planning mistakes, and huge increase in construction costs that ballooned the cost of the line from $227 to $462 million (204%, not the 300% that Lee states above).
    The success of the line in both ridership and adjacent development has not been lost on the other parts of Charlotte, where rapid transit plans are being accelerated.
    As for your conspiracy, so what? I’d rather “waste” millions of dollars on rail and high-density development than continue to waste millions on widening interstates that will never be wide enough and acres of suburban asphalt, both of which will only pull us deeper into a crippling addition to oil. One might read your posts like someone that works for a road construction company or a car company, desperately trying to defend their own government-subsidized monopoly on transit. There’s the real conspiracy.

  11. Lee Muller

    Oh, the graft and corruption in Charlotte light rail was only 204% over budget….so far. It’s actually more than 300% over the original proposed figures fed to the public, which were just lies.
    You admit there was a conspiracy to deceive and intimidate voters, but you don’t care, because you like trains. That’s fine, but why don’t you like trains enough to pay the full fare cost?
    As an engineer consulting in all forms of transportation, including rail, I simply can’t justify building any mode that can’t pay its own way without milking taxpayers.
    If the riders won’t pay the full price, the customers have said what they think light rail is worth.
    Light rail is a scam to transfer tax money into the pockets of a few developers, lawyers, engineers and contractors.

  12. JimT

    Something isn’t adding up here. Lynx is 300% over budget and costs (oh horrors!) $1.25 one way, but over 6300 people each morning love it. Property values along the rail line are up. Other parts of town are wanting to get in on the act.
    That whole thing about government providing infrastructure that helps a city grow is so scandalous to some people. I don’t get it.

  13. Lee Muller

    You’re right about not getting it.
    6,300 people like to ride for free or at reduced fares. No kidding.
    The whole scam of light rail is to confiscate real estate and sell it to government cronies, then subsidize the development with more tax money.
    Cities are run by real estate developers because they have so much to gain by exploiting the political system. They don’t give a damn about transporting people, except as a means to getting tax money in their pockets.
    Government is not supposed to be running businesses in America. That is a European socialist notion left over from fascism of the 1930s. Raise the fares on light rail to cover all the costs, so there are no taxes going to it, and then see how many people ride it.
    Things that are bad business ideas are not supposed to be be done. The purpose of government is not to provide all the goods and services that business refuses to provide because those people don’t want to pay for them.

  14. grant

    This comment is for Lee and all of those that think like Lee. Lee, you have made it clear that you don’t wish to have your tax dollars spent on a train because you feel it is a waste of money. My son attends private school that I pay a tuition for. What if I decided that I don’t wish to have my tax dollars go toward the public school system. Do you see how selfish and narrow minded I would be if I really felt that way? It is the govenment’s responsibility to make sure that its citizens are safe, healthy, educated, and have mobility. There isn’t a civilized country on this planet that leaves those four things totally up to the private sector to handle. Doing so would be silly.

  15. Lee Muller

    A lot of us don’t think the Old World is so civilized. We recognize their public works and healthcare programs as inferior to those of the USA.
    Actually, public education is socialist, just like government trains. The difference is that almost everyone gets to use public education all week for 12 years, and it can easily be converted over to more efficient private education.
    Massive government construction projects, like the pyramids and light rail, are used by only a tiny (less than 1/4% in Charlotte) of the people. When it fails, it either sucks up and wastes more tax money which robs legitimate programs, or it is abandoned to scrap because no businessman can salvage it.
    Charlotte light rail just asked for $10,000,000 more to do a study on how to finish and extend itself. Congressional earmarks gave them $18,000,000, foreshadowing the waste to come.

  16. grant

    Lee, I live in Charlotte. I ride the Lynx and I drive the highways here on a regular basis. You seem to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The 1/2 cent sales tax here cost my wife and I less than $100 per year. A monthly transit pass is $104 per month for the both of us. That is less than $1300 dollars per year for unlimited transit use for two adults. No one person in America can get unlimited transit use out of a car or suv for less than $1300 a year. Most people pay nearly $7000 per year for their cars due to insurance, the car note, repairs, and FUEL. This why the transit tax survived by a 70% margin here. Most of us here are too intelligent to pay attention to the backwards conservatives that try to stop this city’s progress every chance they get. There is nothing socialistic about the transit tax in place here. 56% of us voted to start it back in 1998, and last year 70% of us voted to keep it. Like it or not, this is democracy at its finest. As for the public school system, you are correct. Public schooling is socialistic because we all pay taxes that support it and we don’t ever get to vote on it. School bonds are the only thing the voters have a say so in and those are only the tax supluses created by interest that is earned by the taxes collected.

  17. ray

    If you’re so concerned about charging the “true” cost of the light rail to its users, then we’ll have to adjust the cost of all of that driving upwards as well.
    The government gives billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to oil companies, as well as defending oil fields around the world with our taxpayer-funded military.
    The environmental impact of burning billions of gallons of fossil fuels is tremendous and defies calculations, yet none of those costs are factored into the price of gas.
    Finally, what about the cost of all those roads? Why is it ok for taxpayers to fully subsidize road projects that are over budget (I-485 comes to mind), yet mass transportation options are required to break even in order to be successful? Why don’t we just make every road a toll road?

  18. grant

    Ray, I could not have said it any better!!! Mass transit scares some people. It is thought to be for the “lower class” citizens and the “higher class” feels that they should not pay taxes on something that they won’t use nor have to use. The trains in Charlotte are filled with the rich, poor, whites, blacks, straight, gays, young and old. And most of us get along and often conversate with each other as if we are all the same. This is not the case on the roads in Charlotte where the “horn serenade” and the classic “one finger salute” is king. I must admit though, that people who are not accustomed to riding in a vehicle with a diverse group of strangers should stay away from mass transit. They would only ruin the experience for the rest of us.

  19. Lee Muller

    You like Charlotte light rail because you are freeloading on it. You brag about not paying the full fare.
    Building a railroad requires a huge consumption of energy, from mining ore and coal, smelting steel and aluminum, to grading and laying track. Those environmental costs are captured by private train companies and passed on to the riders. Government doesn’t, so free riders squander and misuse the world’s resources.
    I engineer something in transporation every day. I am currently working on parts of 5 rail projects, including one new freight line that is 140 miles long. Rail is very efficient at moving cargo, but only when constructed in proper routes, for the right customers, and priced to make a profit. Government rail isn’t built to be efficient or cost-effective, and it therefore often is wasteful of resources in construction and operation.
    The fact that every business refused to build a light rail line is proof that it is energy-inefficient, because it cannot recoup the costs.
    Don’t kid yourself by smearing everyone who rejects socialist failures as being “just a racist, bigot, or homophobe”. We’re not. We’re justa lot more sophistocated and responsible than the dregs who look for society to toss them a handout.

  20. grant

    Lee, you fell right into the trap with your “dregs who look for society to toss them a handout” comment. I earn $1300 a week legally in Charlotte and only have to work 4 days a week to do it. My wife is a nurse. We aren’t rich but our $120k combined annual income certainly doesn’t need a handout. We are just two individuals that knows how to beat $4 a gallon gas prices and South Blvd traffic without breaking the law. What is so bad about that? Highway usage is a very inefficient means of transportation when there are many Americans today that can not afford it. I myself can afford it, but what about that poor guy working at the drive thru window who has to get to work? Or the guy in the wheelchair who needs to be transported from one side of town to the other? How about the elderly couple who has long paid their dues to society who now relies on good mass transit to get them around because they no longer feel that it is safe for them to drive? Or the school kids that use transit because the school bus and their parents are not an option? I could spend all day listing examples of good people in society that use and deserve decent mass transit. But if you still don’t see my point about just how ignorant and selfish anti-transit comments are, just try making that same “toss them a handout” comment while riding the LYNX or any mass transit in this country. When and if you do, I hope you take a real close look at all of the “dregs” you have offended.

  21. Lee Muller

    Maybe you can afford to pay the full fare on light rail, but we don’t know what that is, because the fares are set low to fill the trains at a low, covered by the taxpayer.
    You figured how to use the system to beat the other taxpayers, most of whom earn much less than you do.
    I am less selfish than you are, because I only expect to keep my money, not live on subsidies from other people making much less than myself.
    I am not “ignorant”, nor “anti-transit”.
    I engineer mass transit systems, and integration of ship, rail, truck and airplane systems. No matter. If I were a cardiologist, your type would tell me how you know more about hearts and medicine, if the subject was your getting “free” care.

  22. grant

    Lee, let’s think about this for a minute. You seem educated enough to understand that the high cost of light rail is only the start up cost. This means that once a system is built, the only expense is the cost of maintaining it. If Charlotte ran a bus every 7.5 minutes during rush hour instead of a train, CATS operating budget would have to double because the bus is actually more expensive to operate than the train. This is why almost every city in America and the World that has busses and trains run their trains more frequently than their busses. The trains move more people for less money. This is not my opinion. This is just the facts. You say that road widening is the way to go rather than “wasting” money on rail. Well, I’d like to give you one of the reasons why 70% of Charlotte disagrees with you. Are you at all familiar with Independence Blvd here? If so, you are aware of the more than two decade long multi billion dollar project to turn this road into a freeway. You would then also know that the portions of this road that are at freeway status has destroyed businesses and divided neighborhoods along the way. It is so bad on that side of town that residents over there has petitioned the city to put light rail down the median of this freeway so that their side of town can see some revitalization like the southside of town has already seen with LYNX. Most people here understands that road building is needed, but we also understand that it is not the panacea. I hope if Columbia or Charleston ever decided to take rail seriously, the voters will decide rail over something that seems cheap like bus rapid transit or building more roads. Rail truly rebuilds neighborhoods and moves thousands of people efficiently.

  23. Lee Muller

    You are guessing. You have no numbers, because the builders of the Charlotte rail system did no business analysis. Their startup costs are running 300% over budget.
    The fact that not private business would touch light rail tells you it is a poor investment. Politicians don’t care. They only built it as a means to condemn property and sell it to cronies. That was the business model for much of the early railroads in the West – to get the land along the tracks.
    I said nothing about “road widening being the way to go”. I have opposed most road building for 20 years, until all the roads are cataloged and put under a life cycle cost system. Our highways are underutiliized, and crowded roads are just another cost of using them, which should tell consumers to seek another route, another travel schedule, share vehicles, or seek alternative modes of transportation.

  24. grant

    “Seek another route, another travel schedule, share vehicles, or seek alternative modes of transportation.” Lee, listen to yourself. You have just promoted light rail because a good rail system does everything you have just stated and more. I know I will never change your opinion on this topic, but I am sure time will. Your arguments against rail might have made sense 15 years ago when gas was 89 cents a gallon, but today you will find yourself among the minority on this topic. Rail is expensive. There is no doubt about that, but it is cheaper than road building and car ownership. Mass transit is no different than any other tax payer funded program. The tax does lower the cost to the user. This is not socialism when the citizens of Mecklenburg county voted twice for the transit tax to be put in place. We were well aware of the light rail’s budget problems last year and 70% of us still voted to keep the tax. I agree that there are transit solutions less expensive than rail. Tele-commuting and higher density development that promotes walking and bike riding are a few that comes to mind. I am curious, what did you have in mind?

  25. Lee Muller

    You don’t know what socialism is. At least you know it’s evil, so you seek to deny that these urban rail projects are socialist, on the fascist model.
    I am an engineer in transportation. Show me the economic studies. Show me the actual costs. Explain to me why no business would do this project, so the taxpayers must pay for a handful of free riders.
    Explain to me why the city government, newspaper and Chamber of Commerce felt it necessary to lie to the voters and taxpayers about the costs. Why did they have to resort to extortion to get a handful of voters to keep their project alive?

  26. grant

    Lee, you underestimate me. Any good or service provided to the public that collects a tax from the public is socialism in the literal sense of the meaning.
    Some socialism is bad and some is good. When ever I use the word socialism, I am only talking about the bad kind (welfare is my idea of bad socialism). When the public VOTES for a 1/2 billion dollar rail system that benefits the RICH and the POOR and has spawn BILLIONS of dollars in development in a decaying section of town, this is not socialism. Now, if this 1/2 billion dollar train was built without the tax payers’ consent, saw no return in development, and only helped the poor, then I would call it socialism. Charlotte’s light rail has seen high ridership and a return in the city’s investment in the form of new tax revenue from transit oriented development. It has also raised property values and increased sales for businesses along the line. This is government backed capitalism not socialism. As for the private sector investing in rail, it could happen here in Charlotte. Bruton Smith has said many times he wants rail going to the speedway in Concord. During Charlotte’s bid for the Nascar Hall of Fame, Smith had offered $50 million of his own money to jumpstart a mono-rail for Charlotte to the speedway. He backed out because he has ownership in Atlanta’s speedway and he did not want to be accused of playing favorite to Charlotte. Now that Charlotte has won, we might see his offer resurface sometime in the future.
    One thing that I have noticed is that you only attack the issues. You have not given any practical solutions to any issue. It is safe to say that you are not anti-transit. You seem to be anti-government anything. I bet you would be thrilled if the government stopped all goods and services and allowed us citizens to keep all of our money (no taxes) and fend for ourselves. This would be total capitalism. In total capitalism, the “haves” would have it all and the “have-nots” would have nothing. Total capitalism is just as bad as communism. This is why we have a mix of capitalism and socialism in this country. One minute, we are using tax dollars to “bailout” our non-working poor (welfare). The next minute, we are using tax dollars to “bailout” major corporations(airlines, banks, automakers ect…). Welcome to AMERICA!!! If you don’t like it here, Canada ain’t that far away.

  27. Lee Muller

    A lot fewer than 1/2 the population voted to tax the rest of the population for light rail. The turnouts were very light, and most of them were elderly who were threatened with a property tax increase if the sales tax failed to pass, and bus riders told that the busses would stop.
    Charlotte’s light rail does not have enough riders to pay the interest on the bonds.
    It is not the job of the government to provide goods, and only those services which the private sector, by its nature, cannot provide, such as courts.
    The private sector does provide trains. It CHOOSES to not provide light rail in Charlotte. BAD SOCIALISTS think government is supposed to provide every good and service for which a few consumers don’t want to pay the real price.
    Canada is more socialist every day. A few cities full of consumers vote away their freedom and rob the minorities who populate 99% of the rest of the country, but produce most of its wealth.

  28. grant

    Again Lee, you complain and offer no solutions. The truth is if a community doesn’t have the guts to invest in itself, the private sector won’t either. That’s why Charlotte attracts numerous high paying jobs. If Charlotte showed no interest in investing in itself, it would look like the other cities in the Carolinas. In today’s economy, the southern cities with a progressive attitude will attract the high paying jobs and have the best overall quality of life. Keep in mind, Charlotte is only one of a few cities in the Carolina’s where my wife and I can earn $120k annually in our respective careers and the home prices in the metro area are not much higher than Columbia’s. There are still several new home communties in Charlotte’s city limits under $150k. That is awesome for a city Charlotte’s size. Cities across the Carolinas has taken notice to Charlotte’s moves. Brad Warthen’s blog is an example of this fact. I strongly suggest that other cities follow Charlotte’s example so that Charlotte doesn’t get a “big city” monopoly over the Carolina’s the way that Atlanta has gotten over Georgia. Think about it. If in 20 years 50% of ALL job growth in the Carolina’s takes place in Charlotte’s metro, would you like the Carolinas? Probably not.

  29. Lee Muller

    If light rail is so expensive that no one will buy a ticket, why should government build it? That is just a stupid waste of money, but it makes a handful of riders happy and a handful of cronies in the real estate and construction industry rich.
    I work in Charlotte, and have for 5 of the last 10 years. I have also worked in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Raleigh, Miami, Jacksonville… I have seen some do good things and a lot of them ruin good places to live with political greed and cronyism.
    Charlotte government is arrogant and corrupt to the core. That’s why they lie and coerce to get every project the people don’t want.

  30. grant

    Your last post makes no sense. Los Angeles is the latest US city to build a subway. Seattle is currently building light rail. Miami has a heavy rail line. Raleigh is actively trying to find funding for light rail. New York has the subway. Chicago has the El. Indy is trying to fund a commuter rail line from downtown to Fishers, Indiana (I used to live in the midwest). Jacksonville is trying to turn a busway plan into rail. Fort Wayne has talked about a streetcar line in the past. If you are trying to make a point by naming successful cities that either has rail transit or wants rail transit, you are arguing against yourself. Again, you sound just like the antitransit tax people around the country that repeat the same old tired arguments. “Nobody will ride”. “It is a waste of money”. “It should pay for itself”. I wonder, did you guys get these “third grade” arguments out of a bubble gum machine or something? Thank goodness the anti transit people like yourself are the minority in all of the successful cities of the world. Here in Charlotte, you guys can talk as loud as you want. 70% of us will just quietly shut you all up at the polls. Fyi, I have seen the entire continental USA. Take my word for it Lee, your opinion is considered very backwards and narrow minded to progressive America. I hope for the sake of Columbia, your opinion doesn’t represent the majority of South Carolinians. If it does, Columbia will never become a part of the “New South” movement.

  31. Lee Muller

    I have ridden on every urban subway and rail you mention. Stopy your condescending lectures. Remember, I engineer rail and other transportation systems. What do you do for a living, work at the Chamber of Commerce?
    You refuse to answer the basic question – what entitles you and other freeloaders to ride the backs of millions of taxpayers who never get to use your toy trains?

  32. grant

    If you “engineer rail” like you say you do, then you are the one who is profiting the most from rail transit. Can we say HYPOCRITE!!! I have already told my income. If I told my exact line of work, others who do what I do could get robbed. I will say that it is transportation though. You seem to know how rail systems are funded, but you don’t seem to understand why governments make these large investments. Imagine if you were a mayor or city manager. Your small city is growing into a major city. Your suburbs now grow faster than your city because people are trying to escape higher taxes. As a result, these suburbanites have created a traffic mess in your city yet they have evaded the taxes that would help widen your city’s roads. Your city is in an “urban” county and the state penalizes such counties by not giving them back the proper proportion of the taxes they pay. You have a chance to revitalize your inner city neighborhoods and provide alternative transit with rail. Also, the vast mojority of your county wants rail. Take my advice. You will have more luck arguing against the current gas prices than arguing against rail.

  33. Lee Muller

    I don’t engineer junk socialist rail. I engineer private, for-profit rail, ship, and truck systems.
    Urban sprawl is created intentionally by government in order for the real estate cabal which controls local governments, to have the taxpayers pay their infrastructure costs. The solution is to make developers pay 100% of the costs of new roads, sewer, water and schools, and add it to the price of the homes. Building new roads and rail lines, and subidizing commuter busses to feed sprawl is destructive to our cities.
    You obviously are not in any sort of transporation business, by the way I am having to give you a basic tutorial.

  34. grant

    Make the developer pay the costs of infrastructure and pass it on to the home buyer is your solution. This is called an impact fee and it is a very dirty word here in Charlotte. As you may already know, Charlotte was the last large US city to have a decline in home prices this year. Charlotte also has historically been cheaper than the Triad and Triangle areas of this state when it comes to home prices. This has made it possible for the average income family to afford a home. Charlotte also has one of the nation’s highest African American homeownership rates (I’m black so this means a great deal to me). I will admit that there is a certain amount of “impact” charged to the developer here, but it is shared between the developer and the tax payers to my knowledge. If the developer had to pay the total cost, this would not be fair to the homeowner. The homeowner is not the only one that benefits from road improvements, sewer upgrades, new electrical lines, ect. The entire community benefits from this. That is why “impact” is usually shared between the two. Again, I understand your views perfectly, but let’s be honest. The states that share your opinions on growth and how to deal with it are economically stagnant. Take NC and SC for example. Both states are growing and adding jobs, but NC is doing it much faster. NC taxes are higher. NC is also more socialistic. Yet NC is still a more preferred destination for people relocating. As a matter of fact, York county just so happens to be South Carolina’s fastest growing county as of this year. I wonder if its proximity to Charlotte has anything to do with that?LOL!!! If York county countinues to add over 10,000 new residents per year or 5.2% of its population, it could easily become South Carolina’s largest county by 2030 or sooner. Richland county will jump onto the light rail bandwagon before it let’s Charlotte’s suburb out perform it in job creation and residential growth. Just wait and see.

  35. Lee Muller

    Impact fees are a joke, just another tax.
    I propose making private developers pay all the costs of roads, bridges, schools, water and sewer. Then those costs would properly be included in the price of the houses, condominiums and rents. Let the customers finance it, instead of taxpayers.
    In fact, when I was a contractor in the 1970s, things were that way. We had to pay for the water, sewer, roads, then deed them over to the county or city.
    Light rail is a business. Let private business build it. Politicians don’t have transportation as their priority in building light rail, but in stealing money from the projects.

  36. grant

    You can not compare today’s economy to the 70’s. That was 30 years ago. Back then, people were moving out of the cities to the suburbs in record numbers. It made sense to charge the developer for all “impact” because it was still far cheaper than building in the cities. Today, many suburban neighborhoods are just as costly to build in as the city. As a result, developers aren’t willing to pay for all “impact”. Infrastructure is so costly today, if the developer had to pay for all of it, house prices would almost double in some areas. Road constuction is probably the most costly improvement in the city and the suburbs because of the expensive land acquisition and the higher cost of asphalt (this stuff comes from the same barrel we get our gas and diesel from. When gas goes up, it goes up too!!!). Also today, construction companies are paying well over $4 a gallon for dyed diesel to operate equipment. This drives up the cost of low density suburban development because those projects tend to use more diesel than high density urban projects. I know because my job is closely related to the construction industry. This change in the economy is why we are seeing a move back into the cities from the suburbs. This reversal of the cities will cause our southern cities to become extremely dense. Charlotte is a perfect example of this trend. Back in the 70s, Mecklenburg county had a population of just over 300,000 people. Today, nearly 900,000 people live hear. If this county’s population can triple in just three decades, it can certainly double in two decades. That would be a population of 1.8 million by the year 2028. This is why Charlotte has jumped on board with light rail. This city is simply preparing itself to handle the influx of more people. America as a whole is growing. Cities need to grow in order to accommodate more people. If our cities don’t do this, we will countinue to lose open space and farm land to development. Asking the private sector to fund all infrastructure improvements is the same as asking the developers to leave and don’t come back. I get the feeling that you already know this and would be happy with less growth and development. I, on the other hand, am still young and at the top of my career thus far. Less growth will cost my wife and I both money and quality of life here in Charlotte. Most people in this city have benefited from all of the growth. Trust me, NOBODY here wants to see it stop. That is why 70% of us voted to keep the transit tax. It is all about keeping Charlotte moving forward. Columbia should do the same.

  37. Lee Muller

    You are just making it up because you don’t know.
    I have been engineering projects with the full infrastructure costs paid by the developers and customers right up to the present. Go see my posts on the bus system for examples. I have several current projects which are larger than Charlotte’f Failed Rail, even with CFR’s 200% cost overrun.
    And 70% of the people didn’t vote for taxes. Only a handful voted. The turnout was low. The government, Chamber, developers, and Observer lied to the people about the numbers, threatened elderly with property tax increases and threatened bus riders with a bus shutdown unless they voted to tax the other 2,000,000 who will NEVER use the trains.
    Light rail is a scam to enrich developers.
    It is sold like sports arenas, as a symbol that the city needs to be “world class”, like New York, or to be cool like the socialists in Europe.

  38. Ron Slack

    Lee, what is your SWAG estimate of the true cost per person on the Charlotte light rail?

  39. grant

    Lee, truth or dare time. Name one project larger than Charlotte’s light rail system (hint: more than $500 million in cost) that saw NO GOVERNMENT KICKBACKS WHAT-SO-EVER and created BILLIONS in taxable real estate investment for its city. Until you can answer this question, all comments from you can not be taken seriously. You and I both know that if a developer pays for all infrastructure improvements, that developer almost always get their money back in the form of future tax breaks. The bigger the development, the bigger the breaks, PERIOD!!!
    As for the transit tax issue, please allow me to educate you on this one before you make anymore ridiculous comments on this topic. Nearly 58% of voters back in 1998 voted to start a half cent sales tax that would fund bus expansion and a future rail network. Cats (Charlotte Area Transit System) started purchasing new busses and started hiring more drivers immediately after the tax took effect. Nearly ten years later, the republican minority on the county commission (who never agreed with light rail from the start) asked the majority democrats to consider a repeal of the county’s half cent transit tax because light rail’s cost had doubled since the start of the tax. They did not seem to care that gas prices had tripled in the same time period. The democrats said no. The republicans then decided that they would fund a petition drive in order to collect enough voter signatures to put the issue on the ballot. They hired a firm from the midwest that paid mostly poor minorities of Charlotte 10 cents for every signature they collected. What makes me so angry about the whole thing is that these people who they hired to collect signatures were the very same people (the poor and elderly) that transit helps the most. I myself was approached by a couple of these people. They told me how much they were being paid to do their job. Yet, neither one knew what tax exactly they were collecting repeal signatures for. They were shocked when I told them that it was the transit tax (they both rode the bus to work that day BTW). They were only told by the company that hired them “they were going to help lower Charlotte’s taxes”. As a result, this is what the collectors told the voters that signed the petition. This is also why nearly 60,000 people signed the petition, but only 38,000 voted against the tax. Almost 90,000 voted to keep it. 128,000 votes on a local issue is not a low turn out.
    My SWAG estimate of Charlotte’s light rail is $9.02 per person for the first decaded of operation. After two decades, I would say $5.33. $4.09 by the third decade. What do you think Lee? Keep in mind, my numbers do not reflect the BILLIONS in real estate investments that the light rail has brought either.

  40. Lee Muller

    You know you don’t set the rules for dismissing experts like myself.
    People like you and Park Helms don’t care if the trains run empty.
    The real estate investment was what Charlotte Light Rail is all about – taking land from existing mom and pop businesses and deeding it over to cronies of GovCo.
    A real rail system, built by a real business, would have to pay its own way, off real passengers.

  41. Lee Muller

    Why is this true?
    “You and I both know that if a developer pays for all infrastructure improvements, that developer almost always get their money back in the form of future tax breaks.”
    ANSWER: Taxes were too high, so the projects could not be profitable.
    Those with political connections get tax breaks, and the other taxpayers get higher taxes. How do they get connections? They BUY connections. BRIBERY.

  42. Lee Muller

    Actual costs per passenger.
    The Charlotte Observer claims it is is $4.50 per passenger.
    CATS estimates that the fares only cover 9% of the actual cost at 9,100 passengers per day, which is a high week day. At 6,300 per day, the percentage is much worse.

  43. grant

    Lee, you have no clue what you are talking about when it comes to the light rail numbers. Let me help you out on a few of your numbers. Ridership on the LYNX has been 100,000 people per week since May. The 9,100 per day that you speak of is what the federal government thought would be the high after the first year of service. After only 6 months, the M-F numbers are already 7,000 more than the feds predicted. The 6,300 that you saw on the report from Charleston’s news is proof that you are not a reliable source for reporting the facts. You completely missed the part about 6,300 will board THIS MORNING!!! If that many boarded before noon, take a guess at how many boarded by the 2 AM end of service. I will say it again. You my friend can not be taken seriously when it comes to light rail information. The only number you gave that was correct is the $4.50 per person price tag. But you simply read that number. You have no clue how that number was derived. If you can tell me how CATS got that number, I would be impressed. Keep in mind that I already know how they got it. It’s not hard if you know their annual operating cost, ridership, ticket price, and the startup cost. Also, the BILLIONS in investments along the line had NOTHING to do with the $4.50. If Cats did factor in the investment returns, the per passenger cost would be a negative number. Lee, you have no argument when it comes to light rail economics. You only know what you see on the surface. Do yourself a favor and do some more research on light rail transit. Find out how much the trains cost, how much power it takes to run them, how much the driver gets paid, ect before you ever attempt to argue with me on this topic because it is so obvious that you just don’t have a clue.

  44. Lee Muller

    Take it up with CATS.
    I got the 9% figure from the CATS website after the rail had been running 3 months.
    We have no good idea how any numbers were derived from CATS, because they are not open, and they have intentionally misreported costs, estimates, ridership.
    Point us to a source for open books on all the costs and ridership, so we can do our own calculations. As a transportation engineer, I can handle it.
    But what do you care about rider cost?
    You made it clear that it is all about real estate development at taxpayer expense.
    Maybe if you used your real name, “grant”, and came clean about your employment, you would have a little credibility.

  45. Lee Muller

    The opponents of renewing the sales tax to prop up LYNX raised #13,000 from small donors.
    The marketing campaign to renew the sales tax on all the non-riders was funded with $650,000 from Wachovia, real estate developers, the Chamber of Commerce, Siemens (provider of the cars), and the contractors. In addition, they got tons of free propaganda from The Observer and phony “studies” from UNC-Charlotte.

  46. grant

    Lee, you are now starting to contradict yourself. You have said before that NO private business would EVER invest their own money in light rail. Yet you admit that Wachovia (one of many BTW) understood the need to donate towards the light rail cause. Uptown corporations like Wachovia also buy tickets in bulk and sell them at a discount to their employees. This is yet another form of private investment in rail. The reason why Uptown businesses in particular are so willing to support rail is quite simple. Uptown Charlotte has nearly 75,000 to 82,000 workers a day. It has a land area of only 2-3 square miles. This creates an area that is impossible to serve by roads alone. As a result, there are many parking decks in Uptown that are 10 storeys high. Keep in mind that there are several underground decks that can not be seen. These decks cost MILLIONS of dollars to build and maintain. Businesses Uptown figured out that if they can get only 1,500 commuters on the train, that is an entire parking deck that doesn’t have to be built (MILLIONS OF DOLLARS SAVED!!!). The commuters figured out that the train is more relaxing and cheaper than driving into Uptown. (28 min. train ride to Uptown from I-485 at a cost of $2.60 roundtrip versus 45-60 min. drive to Uptown from I-485 at a cost of $4 dollars a gallon and $90 a month parking fees. This is why nearly 17,000 commuter trips a day is taken on the LYNX. By no means would I call these trains empty. I have to stand up most of the time when I ride, yet it still beats driving whether I find a seat or not. Again Lee, you need to do your research. There are numerous reasons why cities are willing to spend BILLIONS on rail systems. Trust me, rail is not a status symbol for “World Class” city. Third world countries have rail systems. Rail is a tool for moving people and development just like freeway exits. The difference is that people don’t need to take out a car loan and insurance to move around by train.

  47. Lee Muller

    Don’t play dumb.
    Wachovia didn’t build the rail line, didn’t lend money to build the rail line, and didn’t invest in the rail line.
    They bought votes to have the non-riding taxpayers subsidize the real estate development of GovCo cronies.
    No business would invest in LYNX, because there is no net income in it. The money is in confiscating land along the route and having taxpayers improve it for developers.
    Why don’t you come clean about your identity and real job, James?

  48. grant

    James is my five year old son’s name. I did not use my real name when I created this email address specifically for blogging because my “real” email address already has “Grant” in it. You can call me James if you wish though. Him and I kinda look alike. As for my real job, I really can’t say being that it is an outside job that deals with a high dollar commodity. Again, being that I have already stated the 4 day week pay of this job, it would only hurt the guys doing this job if I “snitched”. I can tell you that this job pays lots more in Charlotte than it does anywhere in SC. I am just an average “Joe” that has always had a love for transportation. I do not have a college degree, yet I have studied public transit many times over when I was a civil engineering major at North Carolina A&T State Univ. I am by no means an expert nor have I ever claimed to be. I could have been an expert because my gpa in college was a 4.0 and I had a reputation for making my professors in the school of engineering second guess themselves in transit debates like the one you and I are having. Keep in mind my professors had PHD’s. I have lived outside of Charlotte a few times and I travel alot. Too much if you ask my wife. I have seen first hand the quality of life in areas with good transit versus the areas that just don’t take transit seriously. You don’t have to be an expert to understand the importance of mass transit. The only transportation more efficient than mass transit is foot transit (walking). Unfortunately, there are only a few truly walkable cities in America. Americans as a whole despise the high density needed to make cities walkable, but we do tolerate density levels favorable for mass transit. As for Wachovia, they did invest in rail as did others. It doesn’t matter which end they tossed the money at, it still landed in the same pot. I think you are doing too much generalizing when it comes to this topic. Your assertions on light rail are true when it comes to some systems. Cleveland’s rta rail comes to mind when you describe light rail. It is not fair to point out one failure and say that most are failures too.

  49. Lee Muller

    You are arguing in circles.
    * You claim there is big demand for light rail. But they can’t get enough riders to even pay half the operating costs. They can’t get any private investors or lenders.
    * Then you say, “So what if light rail is a money pit – it’s making real estate developers rich.”
    If you just want to hand out $8 BILLION in subsidies to real estate developers, make a case for that.
    If you went to NC state, you must be aware of what a busted project their light rail is. The Raleigh area has heard a lot of detailed testimony about Charlotte’s LYNX lies, cost overruns, and operating deficits. Some NCSU engineering professors have given detailed arguments about why light rail in Charlotte and Raleigh cannot be justified.

  50. grant

    Lee, Raleigh never had a light rail plan. They had a commuter rail plan. The plan was to run trains every 30 mins. during the rush hours. It had a cost of over 800 million dollars to build and a ridership projection of less than 6,000 a day. The only local funding for the 28 mile line was a car rental tax that only brought in 5 million dollars a year. That plan was doomed from the start and can not be compared at all to the LYNX’s service, function, and design.
    As for the professors that have given arguments against rail, many of them are affiliated with the John Locke Foundation (an anti “Big” government conservative thing tank). I am almost positive that you are affiliated with a comparable organization in South Carolina. Many of your arguments are an exaggerated version of the truth (something the John Locke folks are known for).
    The truth is that LYNX only serves a small percentage of Charlotte commuters. You have said this several times and you are correct. Yet you fail to tell the entire truth. LYNX is only 9.6 miles of rail versus THOUSANDS of miles of roads in Charlotte. Any amount of rail less than 1,000 miles is not going to carry as many people as roads. The real estate “boom” along the LYNX line is the blessing that has made it feasible for Charlotte to build more rail. From an engineering stand point, rail by itself is not feasible. It is feasible however, if the economic impact out weighs the cost. It has in Charlotte. This is not a bad thing. If the LYNX did not “pull” in these investments, they would have gone to the suburbs like everything else thus creating the need for more road building.
    I am not sure what part of the country you are located in, but it seems to me you are an outsider to Charlotte and North Carolina. Maybe even South Carolina too. You have no clue what exactly is going on with CATS and TTA. As for the 8 billion you speak of, this is CATS’s entire budget for busses and trains combined for the next 25 years. LYNX’s current 9.6 mile line will only use 750 million approx. of this in that time period. The start up of 465 million and operating cost of 25 years is included in the 750 million together. This is what I mean. Your arguments are full of half-truths and blatant exaggerations.

  51. Lee Muller

    Bottom line is that LYNX is not a viable business, which is why private investors rejected it.
    It is only built to grab land and hand it over, with improvements, to real estate developers who run Charlotte. There’s big money in socialism, for those who control it.
    Instead of dismissing the PhD engineers and economists who have analyzed LYNX and found it to be wasteful, why don’t you try to argue with their findings, one engineer to another. Right now, you are just a cheerleader making vague claims of secondary benefits.
    Are you in the trough for some of those benefits? Come clean and put your agenda on the table, so we can have an honest dialogue.

  52. Lee Muller

    I have been engineering large and small construction and high-tech R&D projects in SC and NC since the late 1960s, as well as large transportation systems in Miami, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere.
    One of my offices is in South Park.

  53. Lee Muller

    I have been engineering large projects in SC and NC since the late 1960s, and large transportation projects in NY, NJ, Los Angeles, Oakland, Tacoma, Miami, Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere overseas.
    I have a Charlotte office in South Park.
    And you?

  54. grant

    The only waste is the fact that you are leasing in South Park. The University area and Arrowood is just as nice without the Uptown/South Park price tag. Do you really need an office next door to Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and the Cheese Cake Factory anyway? My guess is no.
    As for the claim that LYNX benefits are vague, you are correct once again. They will not appear as vague in the next 2-3 years when they all are finally constructed.
    I have no agenda. I just want what is best for the city I call home. Lucky for Charlotteans like myself, Lee Muller is not the mayor of Charlotte. Thank goodness!!!!!!

  55. Lee Muller

    I pay far less for my office than any you mentioned.
    That’s not surprising, given your support for money-pit LYNX. At least for the present, people like you don’t get to tell me what to rent or what car to drive, but your kind is working on it.
    LYNX is a corrupt swindle of to take money from millions of taxpayers and enrich a handful of developers and contractors. It is not an honorable engineering project, but a lot of engineers put their professional responsibility to the public aside to get their hands in the pie.
    Civil engineering, especially, is so dependent on government projects, funding and permits that many of those who want to speak out dare not, for fear of being fired or blackballed.

  56. grant

    If you are paying less, then you are not in South Park. I know of several office spaces availble near the corner of Park and Woodlawn that are cheap and claim to be at a South Park address but they are not.
    It is true what you said about the politics of civil engineering. Those politics are some of the reasons why I chose a different career path. My current job pays less than most engineers but I do have the opportunity to earn a six figure salary by being my own boss (something I will be doing within the next year). I will admit that I have also just started investing in real estate here as a hobby. I walked away from my first deal with $2,000 in hand after closing. It only took me three days to find the place, close, and deposit my check. Now is the BEST time for investors to buy!!!
    My job and my hobby has nothing to do with my support of light rail. Most people in Charlotte (myself included) understand that there are certain things that Charlotte needs in order to keep this city moving economically. Charlotte’s convention center operates at a loss yet it brings in millions more to the city than the loss the city pays. Many people think that professional sports is a waste of money. Yet Charlotte’s growth hit a new level in the early 90’s after the addition of the NBA and NFL. Charlotte voters did not want an arena Uptown but when you see all of the developments and jobs created around Time Warner, it is clear that the voters were wrong. Charlotte only voted down the arena because at the time we were being threatened by the Hornets’ ownership. Everybody I know associated the arena with the NBA. Nobody took into account all of the other events throughout the year that an arena would host.
    Lee, I think you are doing the same thing that the people against the arena did. You are only looking at one dimension of the project and you are calling the entire thing a “money pit”. People did the same thing back in the 50’s and 60’s when intersates were being built. Many communities did not like the idea of high speed vehicles going through their town. It was also cheaper to “wrap” the freeway around the city. As a result, suburbs grew and the cities “died”. Charlotte had the opportunity for I-40 to run through it but the leadership at the time saw it as a boondoggle. Charlotteans today would “kill” for an already-in-place third interstate. Especially a west/east one like I-40.
    My point is that history does repeat itself. If Charlotte does not build rail now, future Charlotteans would hate us for it. Their is no doubt in my mind that Charlotte will have a city population of 2 million within the next 40 years. I could very well live to see that day but my son has a very good chance of seeing that day. This city only has 9.6 miles of rail transit. This is unacceptable for a city of 2 million. Houston has 7.5 miles of rail and a population of 2 million. The only real rapid transit in that town is I-10, and it isn’t very rapid due to traffic. Houston should have a rail network comparable to Chicago’s El but the oil companies down there wanted a gas guzzling city. Just another example of politics in engineering. At least the LYNX is an example of possitive politics in engineering.

  57. Lee Muller

    I oppose subsidizing professional sports because all you are doing is having the taxpayers enable the owners to pay larger salaries to the athletes.
    Entertainment is not a legitimate function of government, either. There is lots of it without any taxpayer subsidies. Taking tax money and giving it to athletes, performers, or light rail robs consumer of choices about what they want. For example, they might rather spend the money on soccer for their children instead of contributing to an extra million dollars for some quarterback.

  58. grant

    For once we agree. Pro athletes do not need multi million dollar salaries. I do feel that the arena did more for Charlotte than just provide a new house for the NBA.
    Basically it all boils down to economics. Charlotte is a city with growth and ambitions. With that growth comes issues and challenges. This city has learned that “targeting” the growth is as pointless as a hunter “targeting” a duck in flight. Much like the hunter, Charlotte has to aim slightly ahead of the growth’s direction. This means that the city will often ask the tax payers to fund certain projects that might seem premature. There is nothing wrong with this at all as long as the tax payers voted for the new taxes.

  59. Lee Muller

    It all boils down to morality, and whether the taxpayers are going to take back their country from the crony socialists, and restore government to its rightful, very limited role in our lives, of serving ALL the people, instead of being a broker for transferring wealth to the majority of deadbeats.

  60. rst

    was denser development going to take place along south blvd without a rail line?
    i can only remember office buildings and strip malls on south when i lived in charlotte for a brief time near there.
    i assume a bus ran or still does run along south – were these routes at capacity – being regularly expanded?
    im not sure but it would seem that most of the lynx riders probobly live just off of south blvd – has the rail supplanted much vehicle traffic or are most of the riders previous bus riders?

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