Administrators balk at Triangle rail plans

Part of the Triangle Transit Authority's plan to build a 35-mile-long commuter rail line connecting Raleigh, Research Triangle Park, Durham and Chapel Hill by 2004 may have been derailed Monday.

In an interview with The News & Observer of Raleigh, President Nan Keohane publicly reiterated the University's opposition to the proposed locations of an elevated platform station in front of Duke Hospital's main entrance as well as an elevated track continuing down Erwin Road.

"The issue before us now is the location of the line," University spokesman Al Rossiter said Tuesday. "The University feels that [the raised platform] would create a fundamental change in the character of the entrance to the Hospital and Erwin Road. Our primary concern is the Erwin Road area and the change of character of the neighborhood that this would cause." Keohane was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The University's opposition should come as no immediate surprise to TTA authorities. Executive Vice President Tallman Trask-a Chicago native and an elevated-railway critic-expressed strong distaste for the plan earlier this month.

Even so, state Sen. Wib Gulley, D-Durham, a former member of the TTA Board of Trustees and a long-time supporter of the plan, said he is very disappointed with the University's response.

"I cannot imagine why [Duke dislikes the plan]," he said. "Duke Medical Center and the University are the largest private employers in the region. The purpose of the regional rail line is to link up major employment centers and major activity centers in the region."

University officials agree that a light rail system could benefit all members of the multi-faceted Duke community. "We hope it would be used by all of our employees and patients at the Hospital instead of automobiles," said Rossiter. "Certainly, a light rail through the Triangle would facilitate transportation and ease traffic congestion in the area."

Gulley is still not satisfied, however. He thinks the University's statements of support for the plan could be disingenuous.

"If the University really wants to support the regional rail system, then they ought to be coming forward and saying, 'Let's sit down together and resolve all the problems and issues and concerns we might have and work it out,'" he said.

Trask plans to meet with TTA and state government officials Friday to discuss alternate locations for a light rail stop near the Medical Center, Rossiter said.

"The point is that we do want a stop convenient to Duke University Hospital, we just don't want an elevated stop by the Hospital or Erwin Road," Rossiter said. "We don't want anything that would disturb our patients or the neighborhood around the Hospital, and we believe that this is possible."

Kelly Woo contributed to this story.


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