I’m writing to express my concern that Duke has not yet signed a cooperative agreement with GoTriangle and is putting the light rail transit project at risk. In addition, I’d like to address the complaints of some local opponents, who question the cost and the benefits of this project for our community. The North Carolina Department of Transportation has a $5 billion annual budget, yet no one questions our ongoing commitment to building roads, fostering dependence on cars, and creating more air pollution from vehicle emissions. Air pollution is a major cause of heart and lung diseases, including cancer, asthma and bronchitis. Some of the populations most at risk for health problems caused by air pollution are infants and children, adults over 65, and people living in poverty, without access to health care. Investing in our transit infrastructure reduces the burden of disease in our community and improves access to health care. Isn’t that what Duke and Duke Health want for the place they call home?

The UN special report on global warming indicated we can mitigate climate change by reducing energy demand, in part by getting people out of cars and onto buses and trains. Light rail supports the compact growth and economic development strategies of Durham and Orange counties that preserve rural buffers and reduce emissions. Coupling this with transit-oriented development will allow more people to travel shorter distances, using more efficient modes of transit. The increase in extreme, deadly weather events has shown us what climate change can do. We have an opportunity to fight climate change and make a huge difference at the local level. I encourage Duke to continue their tradition of investing in Durham by signing the cooperative agreement and keeping this project on track.

Sue Hunter, MPH, is a research manager at Duke University and a board member of NEXT.