The proposed light rail bridging Durham and Orange counties was approved by the Federal Transit Administration Feb. 25.
The FTA’s green light will allow the project—which is five years in the making—to move into its concrete planning stages. As the first step, Triangle Transit Authority, the organization heading the light rail development, will focus its efforts on the environmental process of the light rail. David King, Triangle Transit’s CEO and general manager, noted that the project has many steps to take before its completion, which he estimates will occur in 2025.
“We’re at a fairly early stage,” King said. “It’s a long convoluted process before we would be ready to take real people on real trains.”
King said the significance of the FTA’s approval is its support of the initial stages of the light rail project and its promise of a financial award if Triangle Transit complies with additional FTA stipulations. The first two years post FTA approval will center on minimizing the construction’s impact on wetlands and endangered species. If Triangle Transit succeeds in meeting these requirements, as well as enumerating building and engineering costs, the FTA will cover 50 percent of the expenditure, King said.
“We still have to proceed on our own nickel, but it does validate that the FTA believes that we have a project that can reach the finish line,” King said.
The planned line would tentatively have three stops at the University—one stop serving Duke Hospital, one on LaSalle Street close to Science Drive and one on Ninth Street near East Campus.
In order to choose these stops, King noted Triangle Transit had to enter into extensive discussions with various organizations to ensure the locations best represented the clientele. He specifically cited the Duke Hospital stop as subject to change, with a debate between having a stop at Erwin Road or Trent Drive.
Sarah Avery, a media relations officer at the Duke Medical Center, could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
Sophomore Haley Sullivan, who is originally from Raleigh, noted that the Triangle area is particularly difficult to navigate without a car but said the light rail could alleviate some of these issues. She added that hospital patrons especially could benefit from a light rail system.
“A lot of people come to Duke for the hospital,” Sullivan said. “[The light rail] could potentially be helpful and definitely might make it more direct.”
Sam Veraldi, director of Duke Parking and Transportation, told The Chronicle in May that he hopes students will venture more into the surrounding area with the addition of the light rail.
“Today it’s a little bit more difficult to navigate getting there, but if [the light rail] gives people the opportunity to... go all the way up from Durham to Wake Forest, [students can] do things outside of the Duke community,” Veraldi said.