A light rail transit project is expected to connect UNC Hospitals and Durham by the year 2026.
The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project was proposed by the Research Triangle Regional Public Transportation Authority, also known as GoTriangle, which provides bus services to the public in the Triangle area.
By signing the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision for the proposal, the Federal Transit Administration approved GoTriangle to begin engineering work during the planning phase of its project.
“We just had a major milestone, which was the FEIS/ROD," said Patrick McDonough, manager of planning at GoTriangle. "When the (FTA) gives you this document, it means you have done your due diligence and made sure the line is responsive to community concern."
The light rail is planned to cover 17 miles from UNC Hospitals to Alston Avenue in East Durham. Seventeen train stations will be placed along the rail’s intervals, with an estimated travel time from end-to-end approximated to be between 42 and 44 minutes. The estimated cost of the project is between $1.5 and $1.6 billion.
In 2013, the average daily weekday bus ridership for GoTriangle was 71,300, which is predicted to increase significantly by the time the light rail opens in 2026.
"This project is literally 20 years in the making," McDonough said. "We looked at a lot of different options over the 20-year process, and federal agencies, University partners and the N.C. Department of Transportation have been at the table pretty much the whole time."
Bicycle racks, advance ticketing, overhead electric power and level boarding are among the many advanced features proposed to be integrated into the light rail.
Natalie Murdock, spokesperson for GoTriangle, noted the importance of the light rail in a university setting.
“Students, as well as faculty, would be able to go back-and-forth between universities for courses, research, or to use different resources,” Murdock said. “The Robertson Scholarship is a partnership between Duke and UNC that would benefit from this project.”
Jeffrey Sullivan, public involvement associate for GoTriangle, said the light rail will not only have a positive impact on the general public, but specifically to the students in the major universities of the Triangle.
“As somebody who lived in Durham and went to UNC, (the light rail) is a lot easier than my mom coming to pick me up,” Sullivan said.
“Connecting a lot of the institutions in these cities can really open up a lot of academic corridors.”
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