Duke University derails planned $3.3 billion Triangle LRT project

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gotriangle lrt
Conceptual image of the GoTriangle LRT

Duke University’s opposition to a $3.3 billion light rail project has lowered its probability of success, even as some municipal politicians have started exploring the implementation of eminent domain rules to move it forward.

The Architect’s Newspaper headlined its story “Duke University kills light rail project in North Carolina”. The project may not be dead, but costs will be higher and delays will add to the challenge in obtaining federal funding for the proposed 17.7 mile transit line connecting Durham to neighbouring Chapel Hill.

University officials say they’ve decided to reject the GoTriangle proposal because of concerns about how the project will affect their medical and research facilities on Erwin Road. Duke believes the concrete barriers on the track might provoke hazardous conditions for ambulances, while the noise, vibrations, and construction work from the train could upset patients at Duke Hospital.

The New York Times reported that democratic state representatives were shocked by Duke’s decision, criticizing the elite university and its officials for being “out of touch” with the community’s needs, particularly for lower-income residents. Durham’s former mayor Wib Gulley reportedly compared the situation to a time in 1969 when Duke urged police officers to “gas and beat students” amid civil rights protests.

GoTriangle had estimated that the transit line would support roughly 20,000 new jobs for Durham and carry more than 26,000 commuters per day.

Duke said “no” when GoTriangle CEO Jeff Mann and Ellen Reckhow, chair of the GoTriangle Board of Trustees wrote to the university asking them to agree to mediation.

“The lack of cooperative agreement with Duke creates significant challenges for the Light-Rail Project, effectively nullifying two decades of work,” the letter read, as reported in the News & Observer.

“Unfortunately, Duke’s concerns and requests for consideration of alternate routes – which have been stated in almost identical form since 1999 – were ignored, minimized, or redirected,” the university’s leadership responded in their letter.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said GoTriangle remains committed to the light-rail project and will do what it must to obtain necessary rights of way.

“Duke’s decision not to sign the cooperative agreement is a terrible blow to this project and our community,” the News & Observer reports Schewel wrote to one constituent. “The GoTriangle board of directors is looking at all of its options, including eminent domain, as I have informed President Price of Duke.”

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