Out-of-towners driving on N.C. 54 between I-40 and U.S. 15-501 Bypass in Chapel might wonder what small signs denouncing “C2” and “C2A” mean. One could say they denounce a sacred tenet of modern progressivism: light rail.
Those signs were put up by a cheeky group in Downing Creek, a pleasant subdivision off N.C. 54 and barely inside Durham County. The group has done its homework, and well. Its argument against the favored alignment of the Durham-Chapel Hill light rail system takes full advantage of social media.
I say more power to the Downing Creek Gang, and not just because I live across Little Creek in Falconbridge, which will also feel the intrusion of light rail, though to a lesser extent.
Those with a long memory will recall that the twin-track light rail route from Alston Avenue in Durham to UNC Hospitals was to run through upscale Meadowmont. That was route C1, but as Meadowmont built out, opposition grew to that alignment.
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So GoTriangle (formerly Triangle Transit) proposed alternate routes C2 and C2A, which would put the rail line south of N.C. 54, squarely in front of the entrance to Downing Creek.
Alas, it gets worse. C2 and C2A require four at-grade crossings within a half mile; Downing Creek is but one of them. The others are Stancell Drive/Little John Road, Barbee Chapel Road, and Friday Center Drive.
Think about it. Traffic chokes this area during the morning and afternoon commutes. Now comes light rail with trains running every 10 minutes during peak times: crossing arms going up and down in tune with clanging alarms, trains rumbling, motorists stalled and impatient.
This is what you get for $1.8 billion?
Well, actually, you get more. If you live along Farrington Road, you just might get a 20-acre rail maintenance yard in addition to those two seven-story office buildings soon to go up at its you-bet-your-life intersection with N.C. 54.
There is an alternative to C2 and C2A. Its more alphanumeric soup, C2B, and it runs north of N.C. 54, thus avoiding environmentally sensitive wetlands and the four at-grade crossings as well as a small station at Stancell Dr.
I’m rooting for Downing Creek in this game. It’s beyond ridiculous to put four at-grade crossings and a station within half a mile.
Moreover, it’s not surprising that opposition to any light-rail route is surfacing as planners put pins on their maps. Somebody’s ox is always going to be stuck.
Light rail may be the darling of urban progressives, but when those electrified people movers come too close to their space, it suddenly becomes a personal matter – thus was it always so.
In fact, the Durham-UNC Hospitals route has never made sense. It won’t carry enough people to make an appreciable impact on local commutes and could well cause more problems than it solves.
Light rail is a bit of a misnomer, because there is nothing light about its cost when each mile of the GoTriangle route consumes $103 million.
The projected in-service date for the Durham-Chapel Hill line is 2026. Many a financing and regulatory hurdle remains before the first rail is laid, and with any luck, it never will be.
Affordable alternatives using existing or modified roads abound, enhanced by the prospect of lower-priced, lower-emission hydrocarbon fuels for decades to come.
No wonder the good folk of Downing Creek are fuming mad about being dumped on by GoTriangle, mad enough to rename it GoSomewhereElse.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.