Congressmen praise, endorse proposed light rail system

Feb 6, 2017
In The News

DURHAM — One proposed light rail system, planned to span two counties, received blessings Monday morning from two congressmen.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st and David Price, D-4th, whose districts encompass Durham and Orange counties, went on a bus tour Monday morning along the GoTriangle’s proposed route of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit system.

The proposed light rail line would be 17.7 miles long with 18 stops running from UNC Hospitals to the intersection of Alston Avenue and Lawson Street at North Carolina Central University’s campus.

The congressmen’s tour began in Chapel Hill and ended at the proposed last stop in Durham.

“Standing on this corner reminds me of August of 1965 when I came to Durham as a freshman student, here at North Carolina Central University. It was right across the street in room 331 that I began my college career,” Butterfield said.

“Today’s tour showed the potential of this project to connect communities throughout the region,” Butterfield said.

The congressman continued by saying that the Durham-Orange Light Rail would support the Triangle’s rapid growth and provide “a forward-looking transportation alternative” making commutes to work, school, medical facilities and local businesses easier for Triangle residents.

NCCU Interim Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye said that the light rail would allow “our faculty and staff, who may commute by automobile, to take advantage of a safer, cleaner mode of transportation each day.”

GoTriangle applied to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) at the end of December for the project to go into an engineering phase. Spokesman for GoTriangle Mike Charbonneau said the FTA is expected to reply at the end of this month.

If approved, GoTriangle will begin the final design plans for the project and those plans will then be presented to the FTA in July 2019, Charbonneau said, with the hope that the FTA will then recommend that the light rail project be included in the 2020 fiscal year federal budget.

If the light rail project makes it through the various needed stages of approval, the FTA has committed to funding 50 percent of its estimated $2.5 billion price tag, on the basis that the other 50 percent can be matched by state, local or other funds.

“In the 21st century, we must find creative ways of moving our populations and workers to different points within the region,” Butterfield said. “Our interstate highways and our freeways have now become crowded. They’re expensive to maintain. But light rail is the choice of transportation for the future.”

Speaking on behalf of himself and Price, Butterfield said, “We will continue to reach out to our other colleagues, particularly those that appropriate money in the U.S. House of Representatives, to make sure that this project is on the drawing board and to make sure that we can be included in the appropriations going forward.”

Price echoed Butterfield’s words.

"The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project is a vital component of the Triangle's transportation future,” Price said. “Today's tour from UNC to NC Central demonstrated the broad public support for the project in the diverse Orange and Durham County neighborhoods it will serve. As I return to Washington, I will continue fighting for robust federal transit funding to bring the light rail to life."