City Council members agreed with GoTriangle (formerly Triangle Transit) this week that the Durham-Orange Light Rail maintenance shop should go somewhere other than a site near Alston Avenue.
They remained unconvinced, though, that the line’s Durham end point or terminal needs to be west of Alston Avenue, instead of the original site a quarter-mile farther east.
“I hope you’ll continue working on how to do that,” Councilman Steve Schewel said. “For me, an important objective is to get east of Alston.”
Plans for the Alston station moved from east to west across the street when the N.C. Railroad proved unwilling to share enough of its Alston Avenue bridge to fit a double light-rail track.
There would be room for one light-rail track, but that would create “operational constraints that are not desirable,” said Dave Charters, GoTriangle’s design manager.
Spanning the street with a single line would force trains inbound to the Alston terminal to wait for outbound trains to load and leave on schedule. And that, Charters and GoTriangle planning manager Patrick McDonough said, would affect the entire 17-mile system linking East Durham with UNC Hospitals.
GoTriangle engineers gave the council a detailed explanation of constraints presented by the original site east of Alston, as well as three alternates between Pettigrew Street and the Durham Freeway – essentially, lack of space for a double track, station and parking deck.
Thursday’s meeting followed up from a May 7 session on the light rail plans at which McDonough offered to meet again with more support information on the Alston station and shop sites.
More room is available on the west side, near Murphy and Grant streets, and Charters said that site would make it easier to some day extend the line south to N.C. Central University and east to Durham Tech.
“I still prefer the east side,” Councilwoman Diane Catotti said, and urged the planners to talk more with the state DOT about using part of the Durham Freeway for a two-track light rail terminal.
GoTraingle announced its change of sites in a January meeting with Durham elected officials. East Durham residents and their supporters said they had not been consulted and that the westward site would not serve neighborhoods farther east – with major minority and low-income populations – as well as one farther east.
Their concerns reached city officials, some of whom felt GoTriangle had not applied the same creativity to the Alston location as it had in re-routing the line away from the railroad corridor near Ninth Street and downtown.
“If this issue was at Ninth Street, we don’t think you would just say you can’t go any further,” Councilman Don Moffitt said told the GoTriangle staffers Thursday. McDonough and Charters responded that the route there and downtown did not present the same space constraints.
The eastern site is “this is the tightest location between (N.C. 147) and Pettigrew Street in the entire city,” Charters said, with an existing water tower and its pump house taking up some of it.
Schewel suggested building the parking deck at the Dillard Street station instead, and City Manager Tom Bonfield said a deck there would serve downtown redevelopment as well as the rail line.
“The impediments are real impediments,” said Mayor Bill Bell, who is chairman of the GoTriangle board and agrees with the west-side site. “But this (meeting) isn’t the final say.”
Regarding the site for a “Rail Operation and Maintenance Facility” (ROMF), the council appeared convinced by the fact a site considered east of the original Alston station site would displace the Brenntag chemical company and present potentially high costs for environmental evaluation and cleanup.
Other sites along the route, particularly at the former Pepsi-Cola bottling plant off Cornwallis Road, offer less expense and necessary zoning already in place. Council members were also open to a ROMF located along Farrington Road in southwest Durham.