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The Daily Tar Heel

Workshop Provides Sounding Board for Transit Options

Officials planning the future of the U.S. 15-501 corridor between Durham and Chapel Hill hosted a community workshop at the Chapel Hill Town Library to gauge local responses to the Major Investment Study being conducted for the region.

Some residents argue that the plan will threaten the quality of life in some neighborhoods, while others believe the MIS is not extensive enough.

UNC, Duke University, Chapel Hill, Durham, the N.C. Department of Transportation and the Triangle Transit Authority initiated the study to find ways to link Chapel Hill with the tentative plan for regional rail from North Raleigh to Durham.

Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf said at the Thursday forum that the purpose was to involve the public in the planning process. "We are collecting information, deciding what to eliminate from the plans and what to consider further," she said. "We are interested in your comments."

Whitmel Webb, an engineer with HNTB Corp. of Raleigh, the firm conducting the study, said his company is examining three corridor options for transportation between Ninth Street in Durham and UNC Hospitals that include either light rail, a busway, a diesel train or any combination of the three.

The policy oversight committee formed by the various participants of the study will select a preferred route and technology by May after taking into account suggestions from the forum, Webb said.

"(HNTB is) going to run a transportation model in the next few months to examine ridership, transit times and other things," he said. "Based on that information, the committee will choose what they think is best."

Chapel Hill Town Council member Jim Ward said he is concerned about the impact a heavy-rail line might have on the Mason Farm neighborhood, located near UNC's South Campus, if that option is implemented. "The issue is the intensity of transit in South Campus," he said. "We still need to push for preserving the quality of life in the neighborhood."

But some residents, including Dave Bleicher of 108-B Pleasant Drive in Carrboro, question the limited magnitude of the planning process. He said one critical flaw in the plans is the lack of connectivity to Franklin Street.

"It's crucial to the success of the system to have direct access to downtown Chapel Hill," he said. "The best option is express busing that includes a connection to Franklin Street."

But a transportation link between Durham and Chapel Hill is not the only option being considered to alleviate congestion. Waldorf said the town will engage in another study to examine other possible transportation corridors.

"DOT has agreed to study the (N.C.) 54 corridor from Chapel Hill to the (Raleigh-Durham) airport," she said. "There isn't any reason why we can't have two studies going."

Despite all of the hurdles before any option can be selected, Waldorf said it is critical that the policy committee waste no time in evaluation of HNTB's findings. "If we don't have a decision by next fall, we will have a lot of trouble."

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