Sierra Club says Triangle light rail project one of the best

Dec. 11, 2012 @ 06:42 PM

The Sierra Club has named the proposed Durham/Orange light rail transit project one of the best transportation projects in the nation.

The club shared what it considers the nation’s 50 best and worst transportation projects Tuesday in a 38-page report titled “Smart Choices, Less Traffic: 50 Best and Worst Transportation Projects in the United States.”

The Club said the proposed 17-mile light rail line that would run from East Durham to Chapel Hill deserved the recognition because it would “reduce the need for car commuting on increasingly congested highways and as a result will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emission.”

“We are pleased that we have been recognized by the national Sierra Club today as having one of the nation’s best projects, one that will provide more sustainable transportation options,” Fred N. Day IV, chairman of Triangle Transit’s Board of Trustees, said in a news release. “We look forward to working with elected officials and the community to make the Durham/Orange Light Rail Transit Project a reality.” 

Triangle Transit is the local project sponsor.

The Sierra Club last issued such a report in 2000. In that report, the light rail project in Charlotte got the nod as one of the best transportation projects in the country.

The Durham/Orange light rail project was nominated by Ed Harrison, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council and vice chairman of the Triangle Transit Board of Trustees.      

 “I thought Charlotte then, Triangle now,” Harrison said. “That makes perfect sense.”

Harrison also nominated one of the two North Carolina projects that were among the worst projects, the proposed Monroe Bypass Toll Road that the Sierra Club said would increase congestion on existing roads and add to the city’s existing sprawl problem.

State conservation groups have sued to stop the road, contending that the N.C. Department of Transportation didn’t fully assess the environmental impact of building the road.

The state’s second transportation project said by the Sierra Club to be among the nation’s worst is a project known as Corridor K in the Cheoah Mountains.

The proposed project would entail drilling a 2,870-foot long tunnel almost 500 feet beneath Stecoah Gap, a saddle in the Cheoah Mountains.

Sierra Club officials argue that construction of the tunnel through areas containing minerals could release acidic runoff into rivers and streams, contributing to water pollution.

The Durham/Orange light rail project would include stops at Alston Avenue/N.C. Central University, downtown Durham, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center/VA Hospital, South Square, Patterson Place, Leigh Village, Meadowmont/Woodmont, Friday Center, Mason Farm Road and UNC Hospitals. 

Voters in Durham and Orange counties have approved a one-half cent sales tax to fund the local share of the rail project along with bus improvements, and are waiting to see if Wake County officials will put a sales tax on the ballot there to raise its local share for a stretch of the project that would run between  Durham and Southeast Wake County.

Harrison said he suspects the Sierra Club’s designation of the Triangle light rail project as one of the best in the country would likely prompt Wake County residents to write more letters to the Raleigh newspapers in support of the project.

In identifying the best and worst transportation projects across the nation, the Sierra Club considered projects still in the works, ideas still on the books and recently built projects.

The Club reviewed transit, roads and bridges, freight, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure along with impacts on public health, air and water and the climate.