DURHAM A residents’ survey shows more than 90 percent of Downing Creek’s households “strongly oppose” a light-rail line running along one side of their southwest Durham neighborhood.
Residents reiterated their opposition in a meeting with GoTriangle (formerly Triangle Transit) Wednesday night. They got assurance that planners on the Durham-Orange Light Rail Project are paying attention to their concerns. But they also got advice to lobby elected officials in Chapel Hill and Durham.
“Elected officials hold the cards,” said Patrick McDonough, GoTriangle planning manager.
Downing Creek lies immediately south of N.C. 54, and its issues are with proposed rail routes with grade-level crossings across roads connecting the neighborhood with N.C. 54. The routes, called “C2” and “C2A,” carry the rail line across the Little Creek bottomlands, between planned stations at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill and Leigh Village in Durham.
Neighborhood concerns, which a residents’ committee describe on an extensive website, nando.com/1ax, include impaired access to N.C. 54, with up to 140 light-rail trains a day running through the grade crossings, and the danger of car-train collisions.
“See who’s the loser,” said homeowner Alex Cabanes. “It ain’t the train.”
They want the light-rail to follow another alternative, “C1” or “C1A,” crossing Little Creek well north of N.C. 54. Those run through the Meadowmont neighborhood in Chapel Hill, meeting opposition from residents there – although Meadowmont was originally planned to include a rail-transit line.
(It did not come up Wednesday, but environmentalists have also preferred a rail alignment along N.C. 54, because of its lesser effect on the creek and bottomlands.)
The C2 and C2A routes came about, McDonough said, because the Chapel Hill Town Council asked GoTriangle for alternatives to a Meadowmont route. Those also would serve a “Woodmont” station, on N.C. 54 east of Downing Creek.
Although Downing Creek is in the city of Durham and Durham County, residents have Chapel Hill addresses and areas around the neighborhood are within Chapel Hill’s planning jurisdiction. While no formal vote has been taken, McDonough said, most Town Council members have said they favor the routes past Downing Creek.
That creates another frustration for Downing Creek, because their neighborhood is affected by elected officials they cannot vote for. And while Durham’s City Council has taken no position yet, McDonough said two council members – Diane Catotti and Steve Schewel – have indicated support for the Downing Creek routes.
Many Downing Creek residents feel that Durham officials are only interested in the central city and ignore the suburbs. With no influence in Chapel Hill, “We feel like we’re on our own,” said Jim Doughty, a member of the neighborhood’s committee on light-rail issues.
Residents have asked why the line could not be built on the north side of the N.C. 54. At Wednesday’s meeting, GoTriangle design manager Dave Charters said a north-side route would be outside jurisdiction of the state DOT, which would allow the southside line; UNC, a private estate and the Army Corps of Engineers control the north side and might or might not approve of a rail line.
Also, he said, there is not enough space available on the north. Residents remained highly skeptical, though, and asked for more information to support GoTriangle’s position.
More meetings coming
GoTriangle is holding three public meetings on the Durham-Orange Light Rail project in early June.
Jun. 2, 4-7 p.m., Chapel Hill Public Library, 100 Library Drive.
Jun. 4, 4-7 p.m.: Durham Station, 5151 W. Pettigrew St.
Jun. 6, 4-7: John Avery Boys and Girls Club, 808 E. Pettigrew St.