The announcement of discontinuation of the light rail sent a shockwave throughout the Triangle community. The reaction was such that students from Duke University — past and present — came together to stage a protest in front of Allen Building, the university's main administration building, on Friday afternoon.
A host of speakers were present at the event, including Durham Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson as well as Duke and UNC students. Every speaker was met with snaps of agreement and applause.
Many Duke administrators were in attendance, said Bennett Carpenter, a Duke graduate and one of the speakers. Durham residents were also present.
Duke announced on Feb. 27 its withdrawal from the light rail project, virtually ending any chance of continuing the construction of the project. The university cited the risk the construction posed to research and patients, referring to Duke’s Medical Center on Erwin road.
This explanation was met with anger and skepticism by students and residents alike. Many students focused on the missed opportunities with ending the light rail project.
As the Triangle grows in population, the area is expected to experience increased traffic congestion. The light rail would have provided an opportunity for residents to commute with greater ease, facilitating greater connectivity. Other hoped benefits included reducing the region's carbon footprint and need for buses, along with covering more stops not included in bus routes.
Ariyani Challapalli, an undergraduate student at Duke, implored members of the university to seize the future of their community in their own hands and take responsibility.
“Some of my friends asked me why this rally is even happening — if the light rail is dead. My answer is that the light rail may be over, but that does not mean that its implications for the community have ended,” she said. “What place does Duke have with Durham, within Durham, and what kind of change are we going to demand moving forward?”
Johnson also emphasized the missed opportunities the end of the project means.