The Orange County Board of Commissioners will vote on an additional stop being added to the Durham-Orange Light Rail proposal Tuesday night.
Any additional stop being considered for the Durham-Orange Light Rail line causes the proposal to go back before the Orange County Board of Commissioners and other stakeholder bodies.
GoTriangle staff brought two potential changes before the commissioners in late November. One of those was moving the Gateway station to the west to allow for the opportunity for more economic development in Orange County associated with the stop.
Commissioner Barry Jacobs said this is was part of the recent negotiations with Durham County and could provide opportunity to work toward other project goals.
“A lot of what we discussed was affordable housing being located with the station,” Jacobs said. “So that’ll be something that I think all of the jurisdictions will want to work on.”
Director of Planning and Development Services for the Town of Chapel Hill Ben Hitchings told commissioners that consultants have deemed the Gateway station as a “suburban reinvention opportunity.”
“How to retrofit the suburban environment to create a dynamic, mixed-use center at that key location of I-40 and [Highway] 15-501,” Hitchings said. “And we know that that’s a real opportunity, potentially, to attract corporate relocations and certainly major employers and have a strong job creation component to the redevelopment that would occur at that location.”
The second change brought before the commissioners last month included adding a stop to the proposed line in downtown Durham to provide better access to amenities including the Durham Performing Arts Center and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Patrick McDonough is the manager of Planning and Transit Oriented Development at GoTriangle, and he said that the additional stop would add to the ridership projections for the line, which he said would be crucial to the adjustment being approved by the Federal Transit Administration.
“It still adds 600 riders a day to the whole line,” McDonough told the commissioners. “So when we think about how we go to the federal government, we’re adding a station that strengthens the ridership profile. And so that’s always a positive to them.”
The cost of the project has been a contentious point as the state has limited how much it initially was expected to contribute to the project. The cost of the Gateway station adjustment is projected at $8 million and the estimated cost of the additional station in downtown Durham is $2.5 million.
Since the overall project cost cannot increase from the proposal already submitted to and approved by the federal government, staff told commissioners that these costs would be covered by the savings associated with moving from three-car station platforms to two-car. That change is also what made the downtown Durham stop feasible.
But the project cost still brought about the most uneasy moment of the November meeting, as GoTriangle staff was using the cost figure of $2.476 billion, which is the capital cost of the project. When financing for the project is included the price rises to $3.3 billion.
Commissioner Earl McKee took issue with GoTriangle staff over that point.
“We’re not being honest with the citizens on the total cost of this project,” McKee told the staff.
The vote on whether to approve the additional light rail station in downtown Durham is set to go before the Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday night when the board meets at the Southern Human Services Center at seven o’clock.
Photo via GoTriangle