Sometimes I think the folks over at the Triangle Transit Authority must be living in ‘Cloud Coo-Coo Land.’ This morning there’s a picture in the newspaper of a spiffy ‘mock-up’ they’ve built – sitting in the middle of a Raleigh warehouse – of the engine of the train they want to build to bring ‘lite-rail’ to the Triangle. Only this isn’t one of those little model trains. It’s a full size replica of a real train car and I’m guessing but I’ll bet it cost at least $25,000 of taxpayers’ money.
Mayor Meeker has saddled taxpayers with a $200 million Convention Center and a $20 million downtown hotel but that’s small potatoes compared to what he wants to spend on the TTA. We’re talking about a cool billion dollars here.
Back when the TTA submitted its first request for funds to Washington (the Mayor wants Washington to pay $484 million of the billion dollars) even the federal government – which has funded everything from ski resorts in Idaho to cowboy museums – gagged. The Department of Transportation took one look at the TTA’s projections (which said how many people they calculated would ride lite-rail) and in effect, said, ‘No way. That’s way too high.’ They made the TTA redo the projections using a model Washington thought was more accurate. The result showed so few riders the TTA gagged and said no way. So, they’re reworking the numbers again, trying to find a third way to sell Mayor Meeker’s latest folly.
But that’s not all.
The TTA also says it should be exempt from the current standards transit authorities – like the TTA – have to meet to get federal bucks. Specifically, the TTA wants to be exempt from the new standards (which were probably implemented because Washington was funding too many mass transit systems that were losing money) and judged by the older – easier – standards.
Which I guess is where that picture of the train car comes in because – with Mayor Meeker’s help and taxpayers’ money – the TTA has been conducting a pretty effective P.R. campaign to convince everybody in Raleigh we can’t live without lite-rail. And all this culminated in a peculiar political twist about a week ago.
Back when federal officials tightened their standards for giving away money for rail projects Senator Elizabeth Dole spoke out for it. But now she’s decided it’s unfair to apply those standards to the TTA and joined Congressman David Price to seek a waiver – an exemption – for the TTA. (Mayor Meeker must be tickled to death.)
What’s peculiar, and encouraging, is fifteen local Republican leaders (in the State House) have – publicly – differed with Senator Dole and sent her a letter – coordinated by Apex Representative Paul Stam –calling the train project a ‘boondoggle’ and urging her to oppose the funding.
By the way, guess who’s law firm represents the TTA? That’s right – Mayor Charles Meekers.