Triangle Transit held a meeting Wednesday night on the Durham-Orange Light Rail project, inviting community members to share their opinions.
Four-year-old Liam Pointer came wearing his.
Dressed in a knight’s costume, Liam carried a cardboard shield with the letters C1C1A and a black slash across them.
“We have a new house. We don’t want to leave!” Liam said.
The lettering referred to light-rail routes that would run through the Meadowmont neighborhood off N.C. 54 in Chapel Hill.
Liam came to the meeting with his parents, Ivy and Joey Pointer, siblings Cullum, 2, and Chandler, 6, and their neighbors Scott and Lanier Hodgson to let Triangle Transit know they wanted nothing to do with a railroad running just yards from their homes.
“I don’t want my kids living that close to a train,” Ivy Pointer said.
“There are five young children on our street,” said Lanier Hodgson. She and her husband built “our dream home” in Meadowmont just a year ago, she said, and, like their neighbors, fear having their close community disrupted and even losing their homes to eminent domain.
“It’s been incredibly distressing,” she said. “The whole neighborhood is mobilized.”
The Meadowmont routes, and two alternatives – “C2” and “C2A” – that bypass the neighborhood, carry the light-rail line across the Little Creek bottomlands between the Friday Center on N.C. 54 and Leigh Village on Farrington Road. Which routes to use was one of five “key decisions” on which Triangle Transit sought public input at this week’s meetings in Chapel Hill and Durham.
The others are:
▪ Which of three alternatives to use for crossing New Hope Creek near U.S. 15-501
▪ Which of two locations to use for a station near Duke Medical Center and the VA Hospital in Durham
▪ Which of five sites to use for the rail line’s maintenance shop
▪ Whether to build the 17-mile light rail line at all
Those decisions are part of an environmental-impact statement rail planners have to complete by February 2016 in order to apply for construction money from the Federal Transit Administration. Triangle Transit and its partner agencies in Durham and Chapel Hill hope for federal funds to cover half the estimated $1.82 billion (inflation-adjusted for a 2020 construction start) cost to build the rail line between UNC Hospitals and Alston Avenue in East Durham.
(Descriptions of the alternatives are available on a survey form at nando.com/keys.)
People attending the meeting – a second one will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. today, March 19, at the Durham Station, at 515 W. Pettigrew St. in Durham – saw a slide show comparing the alternatives, with data on their relative costs, effects on ridership, and various impacts on surrounding areas; and a 20-minute video “flyover” that follows the route from Chapel Hill through downtown Durham nando.com/flyover.
Displays on each of the decision points and on the project in general were set up around the room with Triangle Transit staff posted to answer questions and hear what people had to say.
“It was very informative, very clear,” said Jim Winders of Durham, who attended the Friday Center meeting and likes the light-rail idea. “I drive around here a lot and I’m sick and tired of the traffic.
“I don’t mind paying taxes as long as they’re going for something good like this,” Winders said.
Winders said, though, that he’s concerned about environmental damage to the bottomlands along New Hope and Little creeks. Ecologist Stephen Hall of Chapel Hill said he supports the project but was concerned that planners, in assessing the effects on natural areas and wildlife are only considering the “very narrow footprint” of the tracks themselves.
“There are a lot of secondary impacts,” he said, and wants to be sure that the rail line and other development it might encourage do not create natural-area “islands” disconnected from each other.
Rosemarie Kitchin of Durham, though, said she is confident that the line will be “environmentally correct.”
“Consensus will push us that way,” she said.
“Overall, I’m very in favor of the project because it will direct future growth in a sensible manner,” said Chris Selby of Durham. He had one particular concern about a proposed maintenance facility site on Farrington Road – that it would take out the Patterson’s Mill Country Store.
“I like that country store,” he said.
Triangle Transit spokesman Brad Schulz said 155 people signed in at the Friday Center meeting.
Those attending got strong encouragement to leave written opinions for planners to consider.
“It all goes into helping us,” Schulz said. Evidence of public involvement in decision making is something federal officials will weigh in deciding whether to give Triangle Transit a go-ahead with its next steps to apply for federal funding.
Since early 2012, he said, Triangle Transit has held more than 260 meetings with individuals, government officials, industry organizations and the public in general to solicit feedback on light-rail plans and possibilities.
“All (comments) go into the record we will show to the Federal Transit Administration,” he said. “They will get a packet with all the comments we have received.
“It will be,” he said, “a fairly large packet.”