A new group is looking for money to fill the gap in the $1.87 billion Durham-Orange Light Rail Project.
The Funding and Community Collaborative of 21 private citizens and leaders from universities, health care institutions and governments has been looking for a couple of months at how to meet state budget cuts and federal transportation funding changes.
The 17-mile light-rail line would connect UNC to Alston Avenue or possibly N.C. Central University in Durham. In between, the rail line would serve Chapel Hill’s N.C. 54 corridor, New Hope and South Square retail areas, downtown Durham, and other stops.
Riders could transfer to buses to reach Research Triangle Park and other destinations east of Durham.
Never miss a local story.
It will give residents better access to jobs, education and health care, said Michael Goodmon, a collaborative member and Capitol Broadcasting vice president of real estate. The American Tobacco Campus in Durham, which Goodmon manages, is on the proposed route.
GoTriangle officials think the rail line could launch in 2028 and provide at least 26,000 passenger trips a day by 2040. The regional transit agency has applied to the Federal Transportation Administration’s New Starts program, which could pay half the development costs if the plan is approved.
Although the plan had the state picking up 25 percent of the cost, the legislature’s most recent decision has set the cap at 10 percent, making Durham and Orange counties responsible for 40 percent of the cost. The local share now is roughly $748 million, about $280 million more than originally anticipated.
The FTA recently reduced its expected annual payout to $100 million a year during the 2020-28 construction period, instead of $125 million. That leaves a $200 million gap that GoTriangle and local governments have to navigate until the federal reimbursements catch up. Delayed payments also could increase the interest.
GoTriangle has asked Durham and Orange counties for up to $175 million more in local dollars and for help resolving the remaining shortfall. The additional gap, transit officials said, could be filled with cash contributions, other federal grants and donations of land for the rail line. The collaborative and GoTriangle officials also are seeking project cost savings, spokesman Mike Charbonneau said.
The legislature’s cuts to light-rail funding sparked the idea for a collaborative group, Charbonneau said. Durham Mayor Bill Bell, past chairman of GoTriangle’s Board of Trustees, said the board initiated the effort, asking individuals who might have an interest in advancing the project to work together.
“We just thought about areas that we thought were important to be a part of it – the university system, the (banking) industry, business community, persons who had a vision for the need for an alternative to transportation other than roads, such as light rail and ultimately commuter rail,” he said.
There have been a few ideas, Bell said, but the effort is still a work in progress. The work is important for letting the community how the project will be funded, he said, but also because the FTA will weigh the available funding sources in making its grant decision.
The project is too important to stall, said Chapel Hill developer Roger Perry, president of East West Partners.
The proposed light-rail line would serve three East West Partners’ ventures – the East 54 and Hamilton Road developments at the proposed Glen Lennox station, and the Meadowmont community, a short walk from the proposed Woodmont station to the east.
“Just as we do in our individual businesses and organizations, we must find creative ways to bridge the gap and keep the project moving forward for the benefit of our entire community,” Perry said.
Years of detailed study and planning have gone into the project, Orange County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said. The longtime light-rail advocate and collaborative member noted that now “is the time to redouble our efforts to make modern light rail a reality in our region.”
“Failing to act now would result in falling years behind in delivering critical transit investments to our growing communities,” she said.
Funding and Community Collaborative
The 21-member Funding and Community Collaborative is working to raise money and secure land for the Durham-Orange light-rail project. Members are:
▪ Than Austin, UNC
▪ Brad Ives, UNC
▪ Benjamin Durant, N.C. Central University
▪ Tallman Trask, Duke University
▪ Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger
▪ William Fulkerson, Duke University Health System
▪ Karen McCall, UNC Health Care
▪ Kathy Higgins, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina
▪ Chris Bell, Suntrust Bank
▪ Gene Conti, The Conti Group
▪ Michael Goodmon, Capitol Broadcasting Co.
▪ Robert Ingram, Hatteras Venture Partners
▪ Rufus Jackson, Duke Energy
▪ David King, former N.C. State Employees Credit Union Foundation Board member
▪ Sam Nichols, Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce
▪ Roger Perry, East West Partners
▪ Jim Trogdon, SAS
GoTriangle Board of Trustees members
▪ Durham Mayor Bill Bell
▪ Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow
▪ Wake County representative Fred Day
▪ Orange County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier