Durham News

Opponents, proponents share views on light-rail in Durham

An artist's rendering of a light-rail train running beside U.S. 15-501 over New Hope Creek in Durham.
An artist's rendering of a light-rail train running beside U.S. 15-501 over New Hope Creek in Durham.

Patrick Curley had a list of reasons for opposing the proposed 17-mile, $1.8 billion light-rail line plan. His concerns ranged from the cost and the impact on the environment to safety and congestion where light-rail cross local highways and roads.

Curley of Durham was one of 52 speakers who spoke Thursday night between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at a public hearing on the proposed system that would serve 17 stations and extend from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to Alston Avenue in Durham. The system could cost about $17.9 million a year to operate and maintain, starting in 2026, officials have said.

Many at the hearing questioned the accuracy of the predicted costs. The hearing, held in the Durham County commissioner’s chambers, followed one that was held Tuesday in Chapel Hill.

The spoken and written comments, which will be accepted through Oct. 13, will be included in the final version of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement before it’s submitted to the Federal Transportation Administration in February.

Curley’s comments included concerns about noise, light and run-off pollution. He felt like the project was “fiscally unsound” and questioned whether the project would result in “a permanent tax increase.”

Other concerns, he said, included a limited service area, and “no connectivity to Wake County and RDU,” he said.

Proponents, however, said that the area can’t afford not to move forward with the light-rail project. They described it as a system needed to ease transportation as Durham’s population increases in the next 10 to 40 years, a tool that would guide development over the years, and an opportunity for the poor to utilize affordable transit, faster transit.

“The cost of doing nothing will have a larger price tag in the long run,” said Connor Drake of Durham. “We are looking at the price of suburban sprawl.”

Representatives from organizations such as the Durham Area Designers, Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, a community coalition, and the People’s Alliance, a community and political organization that advocates for progressive solutions for various issues, also said they supported building the light-rail system and city officials’ efforts to ensure there is affordable housing near the transit stations.

Opponents representing the Piedmont Wildlife Center and neighborhoods near GoTriangle’s preferred site for a 25-acre rail operations and maintenance yard on Farrington Road said they were worried about the environment impact on their area.

Streams in the Farrington Road area already degraded from normal runoff, if they add about 25 acres of imperious surface, “it will devastate the wildlife,” in the area said Gail Abrams, executive director of the Piedmont Wildlife Center, which provides camps and other conservation services and programs.

Other opponents said they were concerned about the fixed route and that the light-rail technology would be outdated by the time it was built.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement that indicates the “locally preferred route” is required when seeking federal bus and rail system dollars. If the light-rail project receives federal approval, that could result in it being awarded federal dollars that could help pay up to 50 percent of the project’s cost, GoTriangle officials have said. It also would start the design and engineering phase.

The plan also relies on 25 percent in local funding, from a half-cent sales tax that Orange and Durham voters approved for transit, vehicle registration fees, fares and a rental car tax. The remaining 25 percent is expected from the state.

GoTriangle was promised up to 10 percent, or $138 million, as part of the state Strategic Transportation Investments program, but a recent state budget provision capped light-rail funding at $500,000.

Staff writer Tammy Grubb contributed to this report.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

Still time to comment

You have until Oct. 13 to tell transit officials what you think about the Durham-Orange light-rail line. A draft Environmental Impact Statement is available at local libraries and at ourtransitfuture.com/deis.

Comments can be submitted by: mail to D-O LRT Project – DEIS, c/o GoTriangle, P.O. Box 530, Morrisville, NC 27560; email to info@ourtransitfuture.com; or on the project website at ourtransitfuture.com/comment.