Representatives from Triangle Transit brought renderings of the proposed light rail project and updated the graduate students on where the project is in its efforts to secure money.
“We are here. We are at the beginning,” said Meghan Makoid, an environmental planner for Triangle Transit, pointing to the beginning step of the project’s timeline.
The 17.3 mile light rail was given the go-ahead to enter the federal pipeline for money on Feb. 25.
“We are in competition with other cities all over the U.S. and Puerto Rico for a very finite amount of transportation dollars,” Makoid said.
Some students were skeptical the light rail, which will connect East Durham to UNC Hospitals, would secure the necessary federal dollars.
“What if the feds don’t come through?” Makoid asked. “There will be no project.”
In November 2012, voters in Orange and Durham approved a half-cent sales tax that is supposed to help pay for the light rail and expanding existing bus services.
“If we can’t finance it (with federal funds),” Makoid said. “We would do the best we could with bus.”
Several students said it was discouraging to see many of the light rail stops extend through Durham County and just one central Orange County stop.
While the current plan doesn’t call for many stops in Orange County, a future expansion plan could, said Tammy Bouchelle, the assistant general counsel for Triangle Transit.
“The first phase of expansion will all be in Orange County, even going out to Carrboro as I understand,” she said.
The light rail will also allow buses to reach into new parts of downtown Chapel Hill.
“At UNC Hospitals, a bus leaves every 45 seconds,” Makoid said. “That’s in the peak period, obviously. But that’s a lot of buses that are going to be freed up over time to then penetrate other areas of Chapel Hill and expand the transit network.”
But students and the University administration might not be on board with future expansion of the light rail, said Eleanor Saunders, the transportation chairwoman for the Graduate and Professional Student Federation.
The cartoon drawings used to outline the light rail’s alignment drew criticism from a graduate student who said they failed to accurately portray how close the Alston Station was to N.C. Central University, a historically black college.
In the rendering, the station is pictured south of N.C. Highway 147. In reality, the station is slated to be north of the heavily-trafficked roadway, a treacherous walk for many N.C. Central students.
“Somehow, someway the Durham city government, the mayor of Durham, Durham Technical Community College and the Chancellor of Central said we like this plan,” Bouchelle said. “We like where this station is looking.”