How much is $3.3 Billion?

I’ve been following the debate about the current Durham Orange light rail project.  Here’s what’s clear to me:

  1. A lot of people like the idea of light rail
  2. A lot of people are against the current light rail project
  3. A small number of people don’t like light rail at any price
  4. A similarly small number of people like light rail no matter what the price
  5. A majority of people liked light rail in 2012 when the price tag was $2.4 billion
  6. Some smaller number of people currently like light rail at the current price of $3.3 billion

How much is too much to pay for light rail in our community?  That seems like the question before us all now.  Nine current or former mayors (with at least one notable exception) signed a letter to enthusiastically support the current plan.  One thing that the mayors’ letter doesn’t mention is anything about price.  I assume they either like it at any price or their maximum price that that they’d be willing to pay is somewhere north of the current $3.3 billion.

So the question is: what is your maximum price you think the community should be willing to pay for light rail?

Everyone on both sides of this debate seems pretty confident in their opinions so I’m sure they’ve thought this through thoroughly.  Personally, I have no idea how much $3.3 billion is, so I did some quick math to get a sense of what you could buy with that amount of money.

So in your mind compare the capacity of 26,000 trips at peak light rail capacity with the following things.  Of course I’m not suggesting we do any of these things, but here’s what we could do with $3.3 billion:

  • Buy 132,000 Toyota Priuses
  • Buy a Toyota Prius every year for 5,700 people forever
  • Buy a Toyota Prius every 5 years for at least 28,500 people
  • Give $1,000 to 132,000 people every year forever
  • Give $10,000 to 13,200 people every year forever
  • Give $50,000 to 2,640 people every year forever
  • Give 25,000 Uber rides at $20 every weekday of the year forever
  • Give $6,290 to each Carrboro citizen every year forever
  • Give $524 to each Durham citizen every year forever
  • Give every citizen of Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro a one-time payment of $9,932

If you wait until the 2029 light rail opening date these numbers go up significantly through compounding interest.

Of course you can quibble about the exact numbers, but these are in the ball park.