Published: Oct 30, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 30, 2012 05:47 PM
CARRBORO - On Tuesday, Orange County voters will decide whether to approve a half-cent sales tax to help build the Triangle’s first light rail transit system, between Chapel Hill and Durham.
Recently, Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton – a proponent of the plan – published a new book, “Farewell Forever, Old Road to Durham,” on the history of rail transit in the state, being sold through at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill where he’ll give a reading Friday night.
We spoke with Chilton about the book. Q:
Why did you write the book? A:
It’s two different stories that I ended up blending together. I was really interested in understanding how Carrboro came to be, why a town was ever built here. I knew it was obviously because of the railroad. There’s this old story that some people tell that the rail line had ended where it did because it was prohibited from coming within a mile of UNC, because they were worried about the pernicious influences that the railroad would bring to the campus. I wanted to know if that story was really true. … It wasn’t. Q:
The book discusses the history of the State University Railroad and the Cape Fear Navigation Company. What can they teach us? A:
One was a big success, one was a huge failure. The CFNC built navigational systems on the upper Cape Fear River three times over 25 years before they ever hired their first professional engineer, and each of those three times was a total disaster. They spent phenomenal sums on building all of that, and all of it is just rocks and dust now. Compare that with the State University Railroad, which was a much less ambitious project, but it was designed and engineered by qualified people from the beginning, and the system that they built is still in operation today. Q:
What do you want people to take away from reading the book? A:
I hope it’ll help persuade people of the importance of this vote that we’re about to take, for one thing. But I think the real lesson from it all is that transportation planning is really important, and having a good and well thought-out plan is really essential.
Sometimes, I feel like the N.C. Department of Transportation, although they do lots of planning, doesn’t put much critical thinking into those plans. The assumption is, if people want to get from A to B, then what we need to do is build a four-lane highway from A to B, and that’s very costly to do. I think we’re eventually going to find, 100 years from now, many of the four-lane highways or the six-lane highways that we’re building around North Carolina will be kind of like the works of the Cape Fear Navigation Company. They’ll be dust, abandoned, because there’s not going to be sufficient demand a hundred years from now for those roads to make it worth maintaining them. And that’s going to mean it’ll turn out that we’ve wasted a lot of money on highway construction when we should have been focused on more sustainable methods of transportation. Q:
Besides morning and evening commuters, would there be enough passengers to make a light rail here economically sustainable? A:
Even with just the passenger load we have right now, between Chapel Hill Transit and Triangle Transit, we already have enough people using public transportation to make it work. And I think with it being a faster system and more efficient, and with the cost of gasoline continuing to rise, that more and more people will be attracted to riding.