In response to University opposition to a proposed rail station in front of Duke Hospital, Triangle Transit Authority officials have backtracked and are now planning a different ending to the 35-mile regional rail system.
The leading contender for the route's final station is now a plot of land near Ninth Street, which was previously scheduled to be the next-to-last stop on the rail line from Raleigh to Durham. The site is bordered by Erwin Road, the Durham Freeway, the existing train tracks and Anderson Street, said Juanita Shearer-Swink, senior transportation planner at TTA.
One other site-on Buchanan Boulevard near Domino's Pizza-may still supplant the Ninth Street stop. However, Shearer-Swink explained that this location has a major disadvantage: it is too close to a potential stop near the Liggett and Myers complex and Brightleaf Square, a stop that is popular with many city officials.
"We have been looking at the Ninth Street site from a broader perspective because it functions well as an end station," she said.
TTA officials presented its tentative plan at a May 20 meeting of high-level officials from Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Durham, Chapel Hill and the state Department of Transportation.
"There was consensus in the meeting that the Ninth Street station will provide dependable access to the regional rail system and the Duke University community," Shearer-Swink said.
Executive Vice President Tallman Trask agreed that a station near Ninth Street will adequately serve the University. Although it is not very convenient for Medical Center employees, Trask pointed out that no single site could be convenient for all employees and students.
Construction on a station is expected to begin in 2001, and trains for this first phase of TTA's plan should begin rolling in 2004. Phase II will extend the rail line to Chapel Hill.
The dispute over the last stop in Phase I began earlier this year, when TTA officials wanted to put the final stop at the corner of Erwin Road and Fulton Street. Trask and President Nan Keohane objected, saying the area is already too congested. They also worried that the line for Phase II would cut through Duke Forest and land marked for Medical Center expansion.
The University later suggested an alternate site on Fulton Street, but TTA said the site was not close enough to the Medical Center and that a road into the station could not legally be built off a Durham Freeway exit ramp.
TTA will still draft the required environmental impact statements for two potential stations near Duke Hospital. But because of the University's objections, Shearer-Swink said, "We're not assuming that they will be Phase I stations."
The ultimate location and design of the final Phase I stop also depends on and determines the technology and corridor used in Phase II.
For example, Trask said, the station will need to be bigger if riders will be transferring from trains to buses. By the same token, the path to Chapel Hill may travel a different route if it is coming out of Ninth Street.
The DOT is in the process of hiring a consulting firm to help determine the best path to Chapel Hill. This analysis should be complete by February or March of next year.
Inside Chapel Hill, the transit path is much more defined. At the May 20 meeting, UNC officials presented a path that would take a mass transit vehicle-either a bus or a train-from the Friday Center on the eastern outskirts of campus to the hospital nearer the center of campus, Shearer-Swink said.
The proposal of this route and further study have relieved some concerns about the feasibility of getting a train up the campus' grades.
"It's not a concern from the technical level," said David Bonk, senior transportation planner for the Town of Chapel Hill. "The bigger question is: Because we have to build some structures to get up that grade, would those structures be acceptable?"
UNC-CH and Chapel Hill officials also worry about the aesthetic appeal of a train through the town and the campus.
Trask and several other officials said the May 20 meeting was an example of the two universities and the local governments cooperating on regional planning.
"We had a very frank, and I thought, very constructive conversation with everyone involved and agreed we'd come back and talk about it," Trask said.