Chapel Hill gives ‘go’ to GoTriangle’s $2.5 billion LRT plan — but opposition persists

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Conceptual rendering of a light rail transit station in the Triangle

Chapel Hill town council has joined Durham City Council in giving a green light to a cooperative agreement for GoTriangle’s proposed $2.5 billion light rail transit project, though significant opposition remains to aspects of the transit infrastructure plan.

Some opposition relates to the route’s alignment in downtown Durham  where opponents say road closures for the rail line will divide the city’s rapidly revitalizing downtown.  One of the opponents is the owner of local broadcaster WRAL-TV.

Despite these concerns, GoTriangle representatives are hopeful that construction can commence by 2020 and the rail line opened by 2028. Federal funds would cover half of the project’s estimated costs.

“This is going to be a transformative project for Durham (and) Chapel Hill. It allows the communities to grow in ways they said they want,” another local broadcaster, CBS-17 reported GoTriangle’s interim project director John Tallmadge as saying.

The nearly 18-mile light rail line would have 19 stops, including Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina Central, and the UNC, Duke and Durham VA Medical Centers. 

However, some project opponents believe the light rail will be noisy. “Others have expressed concern about the use of eminent domain,” CBS reported. “Still others are worried about the road closures that the project will bring.”

Booster organization Downtown Durham Inc. has expressed concerns about the closure of the Blackwell Street intersection and other proposed traffic changes in a letter to GoTriangle, saying the moves would cut the downtown area in half.

“The ‘look and feel’ of a downtown has always been critical to its success,” DDI chairwoman Jessica Brock and chief executive Nicole Thompson wrote in the letter. “We strongly believe that the success of (light rail) and downtown Durham relies on a robust exploration of alternative concepts that considers effects of the alignment through downtown, especially where street closures or conversions are proposed.”

Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent company of WRAL and the owner of the DBAP and the American Tobacco Campus, also opposes the Blackwell Street closure, the TV station reported.

“The dispute caused Michael Goodmon, vice-president of real estate for Capitol Broadcasting, to resign last month as chairman of the nonprofit GoTransit Partners, which has been seeking grant and donor funding for public transportation initiatives,” the broadcaster said.

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