Chapel Hill News

Neighbors question Farrington Road light-rail center plan

More than 150 Chapel Hill and Durham residents overflowed a meeting Tuesday at Creekside Elementary School to learn more about a possible light-rail operations and maintenance center on Farrington Road.

Many also wanted to let transit officials know they don’t support the current plans for light rail and to find out how they can help put on the brakes. The maintenance center would service and store train cars for the 17-mile route from UNC Hospitals to east of Alston Avenue in Durham. (See more, nando.com/dolr)

The Farrington Road site is one of two preferred, roughly 20-acre maintenance locations identified in GoTriangle’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which has been submitted for Federal Transit Authority (FTA) review.

The FTA soon could publish the statement, required to apply for federal funding. A 45-day public comment period will follow, during which GoTriangle will collect comments for the final environmental statement, due in February.

GoTriangle officials split residents into groups Tuesday to answer questions about the Farrington Road site and ask how to make the plan better. Some residents wrestled with GoTriangle’s checklist of prepared responses when they didn’t see a “no build” option.

Why even consider an industrial facility for a site in the residential community, about a quarter-mile from a school, they asked. Others worried that potentially toxic chemicals could be used to clean or service the trains, putting a creek on the site at risk.

GoTriangle officials advised them to submit comments to the plan website and during the upcoming comment period.

Plans show the entrance to the Farrington Road site across the street from the Ephesus Church Road intersection. Maintenance buildings are located just north of Patterson’s Mill Country Store, with more tracks and turnarounds north of the intersection. Trains would enter the maintenance center from spurs off the line as it parallels I-40, between N.C. 54 and Old Chapel Hill-Durham Road.

Officials expect construction to be less expensive for a Farrington Road center – $62 million to $93 million – but it also would displace six homes and require a lengthy rezoning and approval process.

The other preferred site is the former Pepsi-Cola bottling site off Cornwallis Road. The trains would enter the maintenance yard there from a track running behind the former Herald-Sun building and through a wooded area to parallel U.S. 15-501.

The construction of that center would displace a mini-storage facility and cost $74 million to $111 million. Go Triangle officials recently met with the nearby Judea Reform congregation and Levin Jewish Community Center to talk about their concerns.

While some Farrington Road area residents supported the light rail plan, others said they didn’t see the need for it. Baker’s Mill resident Morris Clarke said he’s concerned about tractor-trailer deliveries to the site, the effect on nearby homes and whether the site encourages more investment.

“If it’s visible, if it’s noisy, if it affects traffic patterns, it will affect property values,” he said. “It’s going to probably cause commercial entrepreneurs or investors to try to develop this area to support those activities. It becomes a magnet for so many other things.”

Culp Arbor resident Adele Mittelstadt also questioned an at-grade crossing on the south end of Farrington Road. Traffic would stop every 10 minutes, she said, causing bigger backups at peak times and delaying emergency responders, a vital service to her 55-and-up restricted community.

Supporters counter that the rail line would serve many existing riders, freeing buses to serve under- or unserved areas and taking more people off area roads. The stations also could attract dense residential and commercial development, they said, while the crossing delays would be brief.

Noise is a concern for Pope’s Crossing residents, Kathleen Christian said, because the planned route lies behind their homes.

Her new website – stopthetrain.org – opposes the rail line, which she also doubts will be fast or attractive enough to lure drivers from their cars. The problem could grow, she said, if dense development brings more people – and more cars – to already congested corridors.

Buses are a better investment, she said, but could become a lesser budget priority if the rail line is built.

Decision points

GoTriangle’s 17-mile light rail line from UNC Hospitals to east of Alston Avenue in Durham isn’t set in stone yet, offiicials said, including the preferred site for a rail maintenance center and for crossings at Little Creek, east of Meadowmont, and New Hope Creek on U.S. 15-501:

Little Creek

▪ Option C2A: The preferred route over Little Creek runs south of N.C. 54, but is opposed by Downing Creek neighbors and other nearby residents, because of the potential for traffic backups at grade crossings and other safety issues.

▪ Option C1A: The alternate route runs through Meadowmont to cross a low-lying area to the north. Some Meadowmont residents, although the neighborhood was built with light rail in mind, also have opposed the alternate route.

GoTriangle officials estimate Option C2A will carry 1,000 more riders per day than C1A and cost less – $14 to $22 million versus $36 to 54 million.

New Hope Creek

▪ NHC2: The preferred crossing runs along U.S. 15-501 before curving off to loop around businesses near the highway. It meets the concerns of business owners, who objected to a longer alternative near the highway, and environmentalists who objected to a route farther south across the undisturbed bottomland.

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