UPDATE: Printed 8-18-11
The HRT and Norfolk Light Rail Boondoggle is at long last ready to accept riders. You may remember my previous thoughts on the subject, here and here. This week has seen a depressing series of articles in which the city appears to be doubling down on the thing, trying to put a brave face on being stuck with a project that is (to use a technical term) a steaming lump of watery dog crap. Some people are expressing their opposition with a protest. I wrote a letter to the editor.
To the Editor, Virginian-Pilot:
Friday marks the inaugural ride of the long-awaited Norfolk light rail, nicknamed “the Tide” by the city, but perhaps also known to a fair segment of the local population by a selection of less printable monikers.
The facts of HRT’s mismanagement of this project, the questionable nature of the bidding process, the ultimate pricetag ($318.5 million, more than $100 million over budget), and the overly optimistic ridership projections are well known.
What is perhaps not discussed is an emerging picture of Norfolk as a city of empty, overpromised, wasteful projects. The underutilized cruise terminal; the hole we call Granby Tower; the seemingly abandoned hotel project (presently a sandlot) on Main and Granby; the commercial moonscape that is Waterside – these are the biggest examples.
Who pays for the pipe dreams of some mad city planner? In the case of the Tide, 60% of the money was federal, and around 20% was state. That means some sad sack in Poughkeepsie is chipping in for a train in Norfolk that goes nowhere. Joining him is a guy in Galax who helped finance the trundling traffic terror that has been foisted upon us.
I could be wrong about the Tide. It could foster a new era of easy transportation in Norfolk, eventually connect to the larger region, and be well on its way to paying for itself by the time my great-grandchildren moulder in their graves.
Somehow, I doubt it.
I am eager to see what it feels like to ride 7 miles in $318.5 million. Preferably before the bums piss in it.
Here’s one point I left out of my letter – as a promotional effort they are giving free rides for the first 3 days of operation! Which is just a great idea when you start out more than $100 million over budget. I’m really very confident this thing will pay for itself. Oh yes.
Correction: I have become aware that the original estimate for this project was $238 million. Cost overruns were projected to be $100 million, but it was recently discovered that Norfolk could put the State of Virginia on the hook for an additional $20 million or so, dropping the final figure to the aforementioned $318.5 million. So my apologies, HRT, your gross incompetence actually resulted in a worthless rail system that is a mere $80 million or so over budget. Obviously we want to make sure the record is straight.