What’s going on with the Durham‐Orange Light Rail Transit Project?
The Durham‐Orange Light Rail Transit (D‐O LRT) Project is critical to the Triangle region. GoTriangle continues to work closely with the community, local leaders, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and other partners evaluating the best way to complete the D-O LRT Project. A Funding and Community Collaborative made up of leaders in local governments, universities, health care centers and businesses are working with GoTriangle to find additional sources of local funding to help complete the D-O LRT Project and other projects in the Durham and Orange county transit plans.
FTA issued an Amended Record of Decision (ROD), in December 2016, which incorporates an 18th station at North Carolina Central University into the D-O LRT Project.
Why is the D-O LRT project a good thing?
The D‐O LRT Project will offer better transit connections for neighborhoods, jobs, education and healthcare in Durham and Orange Counties.
The project is a high‐capacity transportation solution that will improve mobility and connectivity, support future development plans, and provide a fast, reliable travel choice along a corridor which currently has heavily congested roads. The D‐O LRT project will serve more than 26,000 passenger trips per day.
The transit line will serve three of the top ten employers in the state: Duke University and Medical Center, the University of North Carolina, and UNC Healthcare. In addition, it will provide direct access to employers, services, entertainment, and local businesses in Durham’s rapidly growing downtown.
New development around the planned stations is projected to create tens of thousands of new jobs and add $175 million in annual state and local tax revenue. Local land use plans call for focused, compact development to manage and channel future growth to light rail station areas that can efficiently support the growth and promote economic development.
Working together, improved bus services and the D‐O LRT Project will allow more people, including those without access to a car and who depend on transit, to access more jobs in less time.
What’s going on with state funding?
In July 2015, the NCDOT programmed $138 million for the D‐O LRT project in the 2016‐2025 State Transportation Improvement Program after it scored highly through the state’s transportation funding formula established by the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) law. STI was designed to take politics out of transportation planning by ranking projects based on factors including congestion relief, safety and economic competitiveness.
In the fall of 2015, the General Assembly inserted a $500,000 funding cap for all light rail projects in the state budget. In June 2016, lawmakers removed that funding cap, but added new provisions that limit the state’s investment in any commuter or light rail projects to a maximum of 10% of the total project cost.
The D-O LRT Project is eligible to compete for state funds in future rounds of the STI Program. The Project is eligible to receive 50% of it’s funding through the New Starts process. The remaining cost will come from the revenues of a half-cent sales tax approved by Durham and Orange county residents in 2011 and 2012, and other local fees and taxes that help fund transit services.
Why Light Rail?
GoDurham, Chapel Hill Transit, and GoTriangle’s transit services in Durham and Orange counties carry over 71,000 passenger trips each weekday. Bus routes traveling in the Durham‐Orange (D‐O) Corridor carry over 15,000 passenger trips every weekday.
The population in the D‐O Corridor is projected to double over the next 25 years. This corridor is already one of the busiest transportation corridors in the state, and existing bus service is nearing capacity. Any additional buses would be subject to the same congestion and on‐time performance issues as the existing system. After several detailed studies and extensive public outreach, light rail was identified as the best transit solution to meet future travel needs in the D‐O Corridor.
If left unmanaged, rapid growth will continue to constrain mobility in the D‐O Corridor, resulting in sprawling development patterns. These will lead to the reduction of open space and farmlands, and further strain existing natural resources. Additionally, the D‐O LRT project is an important component in many local land use plans in Durham and Chapel Hill. Light rail fosters compact development at planned stations, helps manage future growth, and maximizes the potential for economic development.
A number of studies have repeatedly demonstrated the need for high capacity transportation solutions in the Durham-Orange Corridor, which led to the selection of light rail:
- • U.S. 15‐501 Major Investment Study (1998 & 2001)
- • Regional Transit Vision Plan (2008)
- • 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan (2009)
- • Transitional Analysis (2010)
- • Alternatives Analysis (2012)
- • 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (2013)
- • Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the D‐O LRT project (2015)
- • Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision for the D‐O LRT project (2016)
How’s this project funded again?
Federal funding can be up to 50% of the total project cost. In 2011 and 2012, voters in Durham and Orange counties approved a one‐half cent sales tax to provide funding for the project, along with vehicle registration fees, and a portion of vehicle rental taxes. Under newly added provisions, the project is eligible to again be scored to receive state funding. GoTriangle is committed to working with our partners to identify additional funding sources to help complete the D‐O LRT Project.
I’ve heard a lot about bus rapid transit and commuter rail, how does light rail fit in?
The transit plans in Orange, Durham, and Wake counties have identified transit technologies to meet their specific corridor needs. Some corridors are best served by rail and others by bus, depending on the travel patterns and development intensity within a given corridor.
Many metro areas in the United States have thriving transit systems that use multiple transit modes. Both the Seattle‐Tacoma and Minneapolis‐St. Paul regions have light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and conventional bus services supporting metro regions with multiple central business districts.
Within the Triangle, the goal is to create a more robust and interconnected regional transit system to better serve all residents of Orange, Durham, and Wake counties. The current plans of the three counties include comprehensive improvements to existing services, while expanding transit options:
Expanding bus service, the D‐O LRT project, and bus rapid transit in Chapel Hill in the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Corridor
Expansion bus service, the D‐O LRT project, and the Durham‐Wake Commuter Rail Project
Expanding bus service; Bus rapid transit in the Western Boulevard, New Bern Avenue, Capital Boulevard and Wilmington Street Corridors, and the Durham‐Wake Commuter Rail Project
If light rail doesn’t work out, can we turn the D-O LRT project into the D-O BRT Project?
The Record of Decision signed by the FTA for the project in 2016 is based on light rail and cannot be substituted for a technology that was not studied in detail in the environmental analysis. The planning, design, federal environmental review, and capital investment grant funding processes would all have to start from the beginning. (D-O BRT – Durham-Orange Bus Rapid Transit Project)
GoTriangle is coordinating with leaders and planners across all counties to ensure we meet local transit needs, while delivering the vital, future transportation systems for our rapidly growing region.