Orange County

GoTriangle says Durham-Orange light-rail train might drop you off here, too

GoTriangle officials are still studying the possibility of adding a 19th station to the Durham-Orange light-rail line. The proposed station would be at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Pettigrew Street in downtown Durham.
GoTriangle officials are still studying the possibility of adding a 19th station to the Durham-Orange light-rail line. The proposed station would be at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Pettigrew Street in downtown Durham. Contributed

A proposed change to the $2.5 billion Durham-Orange Light-Rail Transit plan could make it easier for people to hop the train to dinner and a show in downtown Durham.

GoTriangle is studying how to add a 19th station to the 17.7-mile light-rail line in front of the Durham Perfoming Arts Center, project manager Danny Rogers said.

The public can learn more about the light-rail project on Tuesday, Sept. 26, in Durham and Thursday, Sept. 28, in Chapel Hill. The planned route would connect UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill with Duke and N.C. Central universities in Durham.

The Blackwell Mangum Station at DPAC would go on Pettigrew Street about a quarter-mile east of the planned Durham Station at the American Tobacco campus.

A similar “City Center station” plan was floated years ago by the nonprofit Durham Area Designers but didn’t make the draft plan, because it wasn’t expected to get enough riders to offset its construction cost. That could hurt the Federal Transit Administration’s cost-effectiveness rating for the project, officials said at the time.

However, Durham’s City Council, County Commissioners and others urged GoTriangle to take another look during engineering, Rogers said. The estimated $2.5 million Blackwell Mangum Station could be added to the existing budget by saving money elsewhere, he said.

The Durham and Orange county commissioners, the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro regional planning group and the GoTriangle Board of Directors would make the final decision to add another station to the light-rail project.

Moving ahead

Meanwhile, GoTriangle continues to refine the plan, which got FTA approval in July to move into engineering. FTA officials noted in their ratings that GoTriangle’s financial outlook in particular needs more work before the plan gets its final evaluation.

The FTA decision lets GoTriangle work with a program management consultant who has expertise in project scheduling, technical resources and land acquisition, Rogers said. They’ve also hired a general engineering consultant and could get 50 percent of the route designed by early next year, he said.

“FTA’s looked at our project, looked at our ability to build the project and fund the project, and said we’re worthy of continuing to work on this project,” Rogers told the Orange County commissioners Tuesday night. “They take that very seriously, because now they’re going to start investing in our project through partnership and more involvement.”

The final federal decision on paying half of the light-rail project’s construction cost is expected by 2020. The state could pay up to 10 percent, leaving Durham and Orange counties to pay the other 40 percent, plus interest on loans and any cost overruns beyond what is already budgeted.

GoTriangle could submit the final application for state funding approval in June 2019.

Rogers said GoTriangle’s next step is approving a contract this fall for a construction management consultant to help with final cost estimates, evaluate the construction design, and eventually manage building contractors.

Other changes being considered:

▪ Gateway Station: A change set for approval in November could move the Chapel Hill station near U.S. 15-501 slightly west, away from Interstate 40 and closer to the Orange County line. The county commissioners this week emphasized their interest in helping to plan the Gateway area development.

▪ Patterson Place: The New Hope area station in Durham County could be realigned to the east of the Patterson Place shopping center for a more visible location. There is some concern about potential effects on the New Hope Creek watershed.

▪ University Drive: The rail line could shift out of the median to the right of way in front of the former Kmart store at University Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. It’s expect to improve the traffic flow at that intersection and make the station more accessible to a future redevelopment area.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

What’s next

GoTriangle will provide the public with general updates next week on the Durham-Orange Light-Rail Project.

The first meeting is from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26, at the Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St. in Durham. A second meeting will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at Extraordinary Ventures, 200 S. Elliott Road in Chapel Hill.