The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project is bringing light rail to town. That sounds like a great idea until you take a look at some of the proposed routes.
I live in the Downing Creek community (on the Chapel Hill border, N.C. 54) and am now actively lobbying to keep light rail from creating dangerous traffic nightmares and diminishing the quality of life in our neighborhood. My objection is with the C2 and C2A routes proposed in the Durham-Orange section of the route alternatives. C2/C2A will cut off the main entrance/exits to Downing Creek and cross the already traffic jammed Barbee Chapel Road.
The original plan for light rail was the C1 route planned way back in 1995 to be part of the upscale Meadowmont community. “Meadowmont’s approval in 1995, with its high density and mix of residential, commercial and retail uses, was conditioned upon the reservation of land for a mass transit line.”
In the last couple of years there apparently was opposition to this plan by Meadowmont residents and they convinced Triangle Transit to consider alternative routes C2 and C2A, which would move the light rail across N.C. 54 to a location running along 54 on the south side crossing Downing Creek Parkway, Little John Road, Stancell Drive and Barbee Chapel Road and creating the Woodmont rail station. This station would have no parking, which would likely result in increased neighborhood parking.
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These proposed alternative routes would negatively impact Downing Creek especially at peak commuting hours since trains would run every 10 minutes and cross all the streets mentioned above at-grade level forcing traffic to stop and make our present traffic nightmares even worse.
The at-grade crossing design is not just a potential traffic nightmare but more importantly it is a safety and emergency response time issue. There are hundreds of train-vehicle and/or pedestrian crossing accidents in the United States every year. One is too many! Grade-level crossings are an archaic design and most engineers would agree that elevated tracks are the better option. The engineers involved in C2/C2A’s design have countered that elevated structures are too expensive, but if at-grade crossings are unsafe they shouldn’t even be part of a modern design. Build it to optimum safety design standards or don’t build at all.
The C2 and C2A routes travel through less densely populated areas than the C1/C1A (Meadowmont community) routes which would logically result in less ridership. Since this planned project does not go to the popular destinations like the RDU airport and Research Triangle Park, Triangle Transit may need every rider they can get to support the astronomical build and operation cost. The possibility of low ridership is real, and that ticket could end up being more than any of us want to pay.
For more info on these proposed routes visit transit.downingcreek.org/
Tom Swasey lives in Durham.