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Thursday May 26th

Durham-Orange Light Rail sees many minor changes, but it's chugging along

GoTriangle has designed mock-ups for a light rail between Durham and Chapel Hill paralleling 15-501. Graphic courtesy of GoTriangle.
Buy Photos GoTriangle has designed mock-ups for a light rail between Durham and Chapel Hill paralleling 15-501. Graphic courtesy of GoTriangle.

GoTriangle recently announced a series of refinements to the Durham-Orange Light Rail project at an Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting on Nov. 1. The changes encompass a variety of subjects, like financial, social and technical issues.

The Durham-Orange Light Rail is a multi-billion dollar project presented by GoTriangle that would run 17.7 miles between UNC Hospitals and Durham.

Together, the Federal Transit Administration and GoTriangle published a Supplemental Environmental Assessment that highlighted the “proposed refinements” to the project and the potential impacts of these changes.

The assessment said the purpose of the plan refinements was to “enhance mobility, increase connectivity and promote future development.” It also outlines what has changed in every area and the reason behind the specific proposal.

“The Supplemental Environmental Assessment is to look at all of the refinements and changes that have taken place since the record of decision on the Environmental Impact Statement that came out in 2016,” John Tallmadge, the GoTriangle project director, said in the meeting.

Mark Marcoplos, a member of the BOCC, said these changes needed to take place in order to balance the parts of the project that are taking more funding than anticipated.

“There’s been things that have been done that cost more money and things that have been done to offset those costs,” he said.

Marcoplos said the refinement plan outlines the part of the track that will need to be elevated and increase costs, but to offset it, a parking deck design is being removed from the previous plan.

The refinements in the Supplemental Environmental Assessment include small changes for most of the planned light rail stations.

Another important update is a change in the length of the trains. The previous plan called for the stations to be three cars long, but has decreased to two.

“That amount of ridership would not be needed for decades, so they decided let’s not spend that money now, we can add that later if we need to,” Marcoplos said. “We’re going to go with two-car trains and two-car station platforms.”

Moving forward, GoTriangle will work with the FTA for a risk assessment at the end of November. This risk assessment will determine how much contingency money will be allotted in the Light Rail budget.

At the beginning of 2019, all agreements that pertain to the financial obligations need to be finalized, Marcoplos said. This includes agreements between Orange and Durham counties and other outside donors.

“There’s a campaign to raise 1 percent of the cost of the project from other sources like businesses, universities and any other entities that want to support the project,” he said.

Tallmadge said GoTriangle is hearing positive feedback from potential sponsors, and UNC and NCCU grants have already been approved, which were funds donated to the light rail as a part of the 1 percent that is private funding.

After these agreements are confirmed, GoTriangle plans to submit its federal grant application by April 2019 to be approved by the fall.


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