CHAPEL HILL – Triangle Transit General Manager David King said that he questions the validity of recent criticism directed toward the proposed Durham-Orange light rail. He said he is confident about the need for the light rail, given the projected population growth for the area in the decades to come.

The 17-mile-rail line would begin at Alston Ave. near North Carolina Central’s Campus and end at UNC Hospitals. The track would generally follow the North Carolina Railroad Corridor, which is 15-501, I-40, and NC 54.

A panel of experts with backgrounds in transportation, engineering and urban planning recently appeared before Wake County Commissioners.

The Chapel Hill News reported that the experts said that the region lacks the population density, traffic congestion and ridership for a light rail. The experts acknowledged by phone that they hadn’t spent as much time reviewing information about the Orange-Durham light rail plan. However, they said it was difficult to justify the need for the $1.4 billion project based on what they reviewed in the regional financial data.

King said he believed the men weren’t well-versed in the matters concerning Orange and Durham Counties. He added that the light rail is outside the realm of Wake County.

“The point is that someone asked a question about Durham and Orange, and these folks [the three experts] declined to comment because that is not what they had come prepared to talk about,” King said. “Those three folks were here to talk about Wake County.”

Though critics have said that the area is not dense enough to require a light rail system, King said that he believed the community should think of the necessity for the project in terms of growth, citing the population increase that has occurred in the area since the 1990s.

Between 2020 and 2030, Orange and Durham Counties are projected to grow at a rate of 13.3 percent, according to the N.C. Office of State Budget and Management.

“This system is not aiming at where we are today but where we will be 12, 20 and 30 years from now,” he stated.

King said he believed that having a light rail option would appeal to environmentally-conscious commuters as well.

There is already substantial bus ridership between Orange and Durham Counties, King explained, which he believed would get an improved transportation experience with light rail.

“70,000 rides a day are already occurring on the bus system. A lot of those are in this corridor will shift to light rail once that system opens.”

King added that travel between the two areas is constant, whereas other cities see heavy traffic in one direction during the morning and vice versa at night.

Triangle Transit is moving forward with applying for federal funding. The first phase of the process is submitting an application to the Federal Transit Administration by December 20 for authorization to proceed into the environment planning phase. King anticipates to hear a decision in 45 days or less.