Professional Rail Critics Hired to Weigh In on North Carolina Project

There is a certain class of “transportation expert” that does just one thing: poo-poos rail projects. The Reason Foundation in particular has found a niche issuing easily discredited doomsday reports on local rail.

These folks travel around the country as hired guns, and they’ve been recruited by politicians in North Carolina. The Triangle region of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill is laying the groundwork for a light rail system between the three cities. According to Mary Newsom at the Naked City, just one community is holding out: Wake County, which has enlisted a team of “experts” to weigh in. Newsom says the deck is stacked.

Wake County, Carolina hired two professional rail critics for a three-person "study" on Triangle Transit. Photo: ##http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/rperks/the_tussle_over_transit.html## NRDC via Triangle Transit##
Wake County, North Carolina hired two professional rail critics for a three-person “study” on Triangle Transit. Image: ##http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/rperks/the_tussle_over_transit.html##Triangle Transit via NRDC##

Wake County commissioners, dominated by Republicans, have stalled and stalled. Then they hired a three-person panel of “experts” to look at the local data and provide advice. One of the experts is Sam R. Staley, well known in planning circles as an anti-Smart Growth voice. He’s a research fellow at the Reason Foundation, a libertarian public policy think tank. Among those on Reason’s board of directors is David Koch, the billionaire oil industry mogul and conservative activist whose money in part has helped bankroll the Tea Party, among other political endeavors. But I digress.

Another of the three experts is Steve Polzin, director of the mobility research program at the Center for Urban … Transportation Research at the University of South Florida. A Tampa Bay Times investigation in 2009 found that the center has frequently been critical of passenger rail travel, while promoting alternatives (highways and bus rapid transit) that it has been paid millions to study. Read it here: One of rail’s biggest critics gets millions to study and promote alternatives.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio (who didn’t run for a third term in 2011) was critical of CUTR. She told the Times that CUTR’s objections to rail have held the area back and predicted they’d be recycled, again, to weaken public support of a light rail proposal headed for a 2010 vote. [That 2010 vote for a 1-cent sales tax for transit in Hillsborough County lost 58 percent to 42 percent.]

“I’ve been very disappointed in the role CUTR has chosen to play,” Iorio said. “It’s one of the reasons why we haven’t moved forward with rail. It’s really been a shame.”

Newsom continues: “Of course, transit and transportation scholars can legitimately disagree about the wisdom of one public policy course over another, and they can provide research data to support a wide spectrum of conclusions. But for the Wake commissioners to name two prominent rail transit critics to a three-person advisory panel might be raising some eyebrows in the Triangle.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: ATL Urbanist comments on the the Braves’ move to the suburbs and the shifting definition of “Atlanta.” Rails to Trails explains Michigan biking advocates’ push to impose criminal penalties on drivers who kill or maim cyclists. And Delaware Bikes outlines a new federal effort to reduce biking and pedestrian fatalities.

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