One way we can significantly improve local transportation safety at almost no cost is to turn on all of the streetlights at interstate exits from dusk to dawn. To use exit 28 at Cornelius as an example, none of the four street lights on each of the four entrances/exits, along with the two high-rise lights that are on the inside of the exits, are ever turned on. Were it not for the light from the businesses, the exit would be totally dark. The lights at the new exit 31 come on, and the improvement in visibility is striking. Turning all of the interstate exit lights on would be a significant safety improvement, especially for us drivers that are 50 and over.
A well-lit exit 28 would also serve as a welcoming beacon to tired and hungry travelers that are looking for a place to eat and maybe spend the night.
Now to my concern: the continued efforts by our local officials to secure local, state and federal funds for the $450 million Red Line light rail project.
The state faces a $3.7 billion budget shortfall this year. On Jan. 5 the U.S. House of Representatives voted to end the long-standing practice that set the minimum federal spending level for transportation. Before this vote, if federal gasoline tax proceeds were not sufficient to fund the federal share of planned road and transit projects, the difference was automatically made up via general revenue funds. This will no longer be the case.
This change will make the acquisition of federal dollars for projects like the Red Line much more difficult. This is because federal gas tax revenues have fallen over the past few years. With shrinking prospects for both federal and state funding, I worry that our leaders will look for alternative local financing sources.
Taxpayers and citizens should be especially wary of any efforts by local officials to fund the towns’ participation in the construction of the Red Line. For example, close to $100 million in certificates of participation were issued by Davidson and Mooresville to finance the MI- Connection. Davidson’s obligation for the repayment on these certificates of participation is almost 25 percent of the town’s current budget.
Certificates of participation and tax increment financing are promoted by investment bankers, bond attorneys and consultants from out of the area. They will, of course, collect their fees up front and off the top. The taxpayers in the northern towns should hope and pray that their advice and counsel is accurate, as we are talking about a project with a cost of at least $450 million. The taxpayers in the northern towns will be the “cosigners” on any locally issued debt that is issued to finance light rail to Charlotte.
Defenders of the Red Line “investment” will also point out that development along the line will help finance the project. This has not been the case along the light rail line in Charlotte at all. Businesses from Reid’s Market at the northern end of the line to the Texas Road House at the southern end of the line have failed and closed. Reids, a Charlotte institution for generations, was located where light rail passengers were literally dropped off at their front door and still shuttered. The space that Reids occupied remains vacant. At the southern end of the line, the city of Charlotte purchased the boarded up Texas Road House for $2 million in 2009. As a result, neither the county or city will collect any property tax on that building.
So far, the light rail-centered real estate development trend has not been the Charlotte-Mecklenburg taxpayer’s friend.
Last year the northern towns sponsored a study by the Washington-based Urban Land Institute regarding light rail transit. The results of this $150,000 research project showed some benefits of commuter rail, but omitted any of the risks. Citizens and taxpayers wanting a contrary view should research and read the writings of Randall O’Toole at the Cato Institute. It’s free and no registration is required!
– Rick Barton, Cornelius