Some City Council members let GoTriangle know last week that they, like some East Durham residents, don’t like plans to end the Durham-Orange Light Rail line west of Alston Avenue.
“Everybody I’ve talked to on this council is really uncomfortable with that alignment,” Councilman Don Moffitt told Patrick McDonough, the transit authority’s planning manager, and transportation engineer Katharine Eggleston.
GoTriangle (formerly Triangle Transit) switched the planned Alston Avenue station from its original site east of the street after it couldn’t reach agreement with the North Carolina Railroad to share its Alston Avenue bridge.
GoTriangle announced the move, a quarter-mile west, to Grant Street, in January. Subsequently, the nonprofit Northeast Central Durham Leadership Council objected that it had not been consulted first and that the move put the station even farther from most residents beyond Alston Avenue.
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The railroad’s plans for adding track of its own also led light-rail planners to abandon using the existing right of way from Ninth Street east. A new alignment loops south with elevated tracks across Swift Avenue and Campus Drive, then drops to run on Pettigrew Street through downtown.
“That’s been very creative,” Moffitt said. “But when we get to East Durham ... where’s all that creativity?”
Eggleston said planners had looked at two options for using the original site, but both presented space constraints due to existing structures such as a water tower complex on Pettigrew Street and the Durham Freeway interchange.
Neither offered enough room for the station, with its 270-foot platform, and parking deck. Mayor Bill Bell, chairman of the GoTriangle board, asked why the parking deck was necessary.
“End-of-the-line stations tend to attract park-and-ride activity,” McDonough said. “If you don’t have a parking deck, what you get is people coming in, parking all over the neighborhood ... parking illegally.”
Councilman Steve Schewel said moving the station west “makes sense to me, looking at maps and thinking about it. ... And yet I don’t feel convinced.
“I don’t think it’s gotten the same level of scrutiny as ... the decision to move out of the railroad corridor and over to Pettigrew Street downtown. That’s what would give me confidence,” he said. “Give this the same level of analysis.”
McDonough offered to come back with a more detailed analysis of the sites, “the physics things that we feel are really arguing against a station on the east side.
“We tried to get as full an analysis of this as we have everywhere else,” he said.
Bell said he had been through the analysis.
“These guys have worked very hard with NCRR to get to where we are,” Bell said. “Why they’re on the west side instead of the east side (is) all in the details of what happens when you move these tracks around.
“I’m convinced if we’re going to do this thing in the timeframe we’re talking about, this is the best site.”
The council set a tentative followup for 9 a.m. May 21.
A site for the shop
East Durham residents and their supporters have also complained that the Grant Street station site hurts chances GoTriangle will put the light-rail line’s rail operations and maintenance facility, and its potential jobs, in East Durham.
A 19-acre tract east of Alston Avenue, connected to the station by a single track using the existing bridge, is one of five under consideration from the maintenance facility.
That site, on Pettigrew Street between Bacon and Scoggins streets, has been occupied by the Brenntag chemical company for decades. Replacing Brenntag with the maintenance facility would entail environmental testing and cleanups pushing the site cost $30 million above any of the other four locations, according to GoTriangle (bit.ly/1EtNxVX); and would displace 150 or more existing jobs.
“People are saying they want the (maintenance facility) there assuming jobs would be going in,” Mayor Bill Bell said, “but (they) discount the fact jobs were going to be lost.”
Councilwoman Diane Catotti said eliminating the Brenntag site effectively leaves only one maintenance facility site open, at Cornwallis Road, because the other three are in suburban residential zones.
“It’s pretty much a slam dunk (those) are off the table,” Catotti said. “It’s an incompatibility of uses” and attempting the necessary rezoning “would drag the process out for years in terms of public hearings.”
The Northeast Central Durham council also objected that ending the light rail west of Alston Avenue makes less likely a future extension farther east, toward Briggs Avenue and Durham Tech.
Alston Avenue has been the eastern terminus since discussion of a Durham-Chapel Hill light rail project began more than five years ago. When Durham County voters approved a half-cent sales tax to support the line and other public-transit upgrades in 2011, the light-rail line was proposed to run 17 miles, from Alston Avenue to UNC Hospitals.
At last week’s meeting, though, GoTriangle Planning Manager Patrick McDonough said ending the line west of Alston Avenue would make future extension easier, either to the east or south to N.C. Central University.
GoTriangle planners will give a light-rail project Wednesday morning to the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO meets in the Durham City Hall Committee Room at 9 a.m. The meeting is open to the public as spectators.
Public presentations on the light-rail route through Durham, from Ninth Street to Alston Avenue, are scheduled:
▪ Thursday, June 4, 4-7 p.m., Durham Station Transportation Center, 515 W. Pettigrew St.
▪ Saturday, June 6, 2-5 p.m., John Avery Boys and Girls Club, 808 E. Pettigrew St.
A draft environmental impact statement, including route recommendations and comment from the public and Durham and Orange County officials, is due for submission to the Federal Transportation Administration in June.
After federal review, a second draft is due for publication and public response in September and October. The final statement, including preferred route, must be submitted in early 2016 to meet a deadline for federal approval to apply for construction funding.
The Durham-Orange Light Rail plan anticipates federal grants covering half the line’s cost, currently estimated at $1.8 billion in “Year of Expenditure” dollars, a figure that factors in rising construction costs and inflation between the estimate and the time money is actually spent.