Feds approve Durham-Orange light rail project development

Feb. 25, 2014 @ 08:34 PM

The light-rail system that would link Orange and Durham counties on Tuesday won federal approval to move forward with project development.

Triangle Transit in December asked the Federal Transit Administration for entry into the New Starts program. This week’s announcement came as good news to Fred Day IV, chair of Triangle Transit’s board of trustees.

“We are pleased with FTA’s decision,” he said. “This represents an important milestone in the course of this project.”

David King, general manger of Triangle Transit, said that the next steps include completing the environmental process, moving ahead with engineering and making final route-alignment decisions.

“We will also use this time to strengthen our financial plan and work with our municipal and university partners on land use and housing issues around stations,” King said. “We appreciate FTA’s vote of confidence in our work on this project.”

The light-rail line would run from Chapel Hill to East Durham, with proposed stops at UNC Hospitals and UNC, Mason Farm Road, Friday Center, Hillmont, Leigh Village, Patterson Place, South Square, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center, the VA Medical Center, downtown Durham and Alston Avenue/N.C. Central University.

Don’t start making plans for rail passes just yet, however.

This phase of the project, which includes drafting an environmental impact statement, is expected to take about two years. After that comes engineering, expected to last three years. Then construction would follow, taking at least four years before light-rail service could start.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, project leaders must come up with financing for the $1.34 billion system. Voters in Durham and Orange counties approved a one-half sales tax to fund the local share of the rail project, along with new and expanded bus service.