Light Rail Project Clears Hurdle

The light rail project connecting Chapel Hill and Durham has cleared a major hurdle.

Natalie Murdock is the spokesperson on the project for GoTriangle. She says the Federal Transit Administration signed off on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement last Thursday.

“Essentially, this allows us to go forward and show the public everything that we’ve been working on at a very intense pace,” she says, “taking a four-year process and really trying to whittle that down into two years.”

Murdock says this draft statement focused on potential environmental impacts along the pathway from Chapel Hill to Durham.

“Throughout those 17 miles, we did have a number of environmentally-sensitive areas,” she says. “In this document, you will see our recommendation as to how we can offset some of those environmental impacts.

“And also ways that we can try to avoid impacts to communities and institutions.”

Murdock adds work has narrowed down on the potential path of the tracks.

The funding for the project is coming from local, state, and federal funds. Murdock says that will follow a 25-25-50 format, with 25 percent from the local level through a sales tax increase already approved by Orange and Durham County voters, 25 percent from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and 50 percent to come from the federal government.

A public comment period will open for 45 days after the formal FTA approval, which is expected on Friday.

Murdock says that will set off the next chain of events on the timeline.

“That final document will be finalized around February 2016,” she says. The final environmental-impact document approval will lead to additional authorization being sought from the FTA regarding engineering. “At that time, if the federal government allows us to proceed with the engineering, then in 2019 we will pursue 50 percent funding from the federal government and begin construction in 2019.”

The public comment period will include two public information sessions and two public hearings. The Friday Center will host an information session on September 15 and a public hearing on September 29.

“We need to hear from the public how they think the project will help their community,” Murdock says, “what concerns they have about how it will impact their community; if they think it will impact their access to work; if it will impact the access that customers will have to a business owner’s business.

“Those are the types of comments that we do need to hear from the public.”

You can view the draft proposal here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/development/light-rail-project-clears-hurdle/

Orange County Weathered Recession Better Than Most

An advocacy group’s analysis shows more North Carolinians are out of work now than before the recession.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate has dropped sharply since the darkest days of the recession. But the state still has more people looking for work than it did before the start of the Great Recession in 2007, according to Patrick McHugh, an economist for the North Carolina Justice Center, a left-leaning advocacy group.

“There are 100 counties in North Carolina and over 60 of them still have fewer jobs than existed before the recession hit,” McHugh said.

This statistic may have you scratching your head if you know that North Carolina as a whole has gained jobs since 2007. But McHugh says those job gains are concentrated in a few counties in the state.

And in the metropolitan areas where there has been job growth, McHugh says employment hasn’t kept up with the rise in population.

“Even if you only look at metropolitan areas—the 15 metropolitan areas that exist in the state—every single one of them actually has seen more growth in unemployed people than in employed people,” McHugh said.

Economists measure Chapel Hill and Durham together as one of the state’s metropolitan areas, and its residents did not escape the overall trend.

“The Chapel Hill – Durham area, if you compare back to 2007, has seen about an 8 percent increase in the number of people who are employed and almost 50 percent growth in the number of people who are unemployed.”

Orange County had a 5 percent unemployment rate for June, which is still higher than it was before the recession. But McHugh says compared to most of the state, Orange County has it pretty good.

“Orange County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, and has seen decent job growth since the start of the recession.”

McHugh says the university presence and the county’s proximity to Research Triangle Park had a lot to do with its ability to weather the recession. McHugh says those employers also kept Chapel Hill and Durham’s wages up, even as wages have fallen in other metropolitan areas.

“If we adjust for inflation and we compare back to 2007, the average hourly wage in Raleigh has gone down by about two dollars, the average hourly wage in Charlotte has gone down just slightly by about 30 cents.  In fact, about half of the metropolitan areas in the state have seen wages not keep up with inflation.”

Chapel Hill and Durham have the highest wage growth in the state, with an increase of $4.50 per hour.

McHugh says he believes raising the state’s minimum wage would boost earnings and employment. June was the fourth straight month unemployment has increased in the state.

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/orange-county-weathered-recession-better-than-most/

Four NC Cities Make WalletHub’s Most ‘Driver-Friendly’ List

Daily rush-hour commuters may be surprised to learn they’re living in one of the top 10 driver-friendly cities – but four North Carolina cities have earned that honor.

The personal finance website WalletHub just released a list called “2015’s Best and Worst Cities to Be a Driver,” and Greensboro is the top-rated North Carolina city, at number four.

Durham is rated at number four among U.S. cities, while Winston-Salem is ranked at number nine, and Raleigh is number 10.

WalletHub’s rankings are based on average gas prices, average annual traffic delays, rates of car theft and car clubs per capita.

The number one city for driving, according to WalletHub, is Lubbock, TX.

Ranking lowest among the list of one hundred most populated cities is good old New York, NY.

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/four-nc-cities-make-wallethubs-most-driver-friendly-list/

Durham Officer Shoots Robbery Suspect in Face

Durham Police are investigating an officer-involved shooting at a McDonald’s at 3117 Tower Boulevard.

A Durham officer shot a suspect in the face after responding to a robbery in progress at the restaurant shortly before four o’clock this morning.

The suspect had his arm around a female employee’s neck, according to police. The preliminary investigation shows that the suspect repeatedly threatened to kill the employee.

The suspect was taken to the hospital for treatment of serious injuries but was conscious and alert, according to law enforcement.

The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the shooting, per normal procedure following an officer-involved shooting.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/durham-officer-shoots-robbery-suspect-in-face/

Durham Police Search for Missing Teen

Durham law enforcement authorities are looking for 16-year-old Lucedid Apolonio, who has been missing since March 2.

The teenager was wearing a white dress, gray jacket, and sandals at Jordan High School, the last place she was seen. She also was carrying a bookbag.

Apolonio is described as 5’ 4” tall with a medium build. She has black hair and brown eyes.

If you have any information regarding her disappearance, you are asked to call Durham Police at (919) 560-4427.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/durham-police-search-for-missing-teen/

Durham Man Charged in Fatal 3-Car Crash

A Durham man has been charged with DWI and driving with while his license was revoked in connection with a fatal crash.

The three-vehicle accident occurred on Fayetteville Road near Cook Road just before 8 o’clock Wednesday night.

41-year-old Daryl Brooks has been charged in the incident where he allegedly hit the back of 53-year-old Kelwin Biggs’ vehicle, causing that to then collide with an oncoming car.

Biggs was pronounced dead at the scene by authorities. Brooks, along with the driver and passenger from the third vehicle were taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries that do not appear to be life threatening.

The investigation into the accident is ongoing.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/durham-man-charged-in-fatal-3-car-crash/

Durham DA to Seek Death Penalty Against Hicks

The Durham County District Attorney’s Office will seek the death penalty against 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, WCHL has confirmed.

Hicks is accused of shooting and killing three Muslim college students – 23-year-old Deah Barakat, his 21-year-old wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha – on February 10 in the Finley Forest Condominiums in Chapel Hill.

Candy Clark, Administrative Assistant with the Durham County DA’s Office, says the notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Hicks was filed February 25. She adds the Rule 24 hearing will likely be held the week of April 6.

Preliminary investigations from Chapel Hill Police point to an ongoing parking dispute as the motive of the shooting.

There is some belief that the shooting was motivated by religious tensions between Hicks and the three students.

The FBI has opened a parallel inquiry into the incident to determine if the shooting was a hate crime.

No inmates have been executed in the state of North Carolina since August of 2008.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/durham-da-to-seek-death-penalty-against-hicks/

Shots Fired at Durham PD Vehicle

Shots were fired at a Durham police investigator around noon on Wednesday, and CrimeStoppers is offering a reward for information leading to an arrest in the incident.

Police say an investigator was driving an unmarked police vehicle on South Street when numerous shots were fired from a car on Bond Street. One bullet struck the officer’s car, but the officer was not injured.

Investigators believe the shots were fired from an older model gray sedan with tinted windows. The vehicle was possibly a Nissan. The vehicle was occupied by two black males wearing blue and black jackets. Investigators believe both occupants fired shots during the incident.

It appears that the unmarked car was deliberately targeted, according to investigators.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Investigator K. Emanuel at (919) 560-4415, ext. 29306 or CrimeStoppers at (919) 683-1200. CrimeStoppers pays cash rewards for information leading to arrests in felony cases and callers never have to identify themselves.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/shots-fired-durham-pd-vehicle/

Carrboro PD Arrest Man Charged with Murder

The Carrboro Police Department arrested a man, on Tuesday, who is wanted in connection with a death in Durham.

The Durham Police Department announced the arrest of 30-year-old Andrew Koko Scheper, by the Carrboro PD. Scheper is wanted in connection with the death of 38-year-old Trinity James Wilkins, also known as Trinity Smith.

Wilkins’ body was found on January 19 in a body of water near East Club Boulevard in Durham.

Wilkins and Scheper knew each other and the homicide did not appear to be random, according to investigators.

Scheper, of Durham, has been charged with one count of murder.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/carrboro-pd-arrest-man-charged-murder/

Durham Police Invesitgating Bank Robbery

Durham police are investigating a bank robbery from late Tuesday morning. Officials say a male entered the BB&T at 1107 NC Highway 54 shortly before 11 o’clock and demanded money.

The robber implied he had a weapon, but one was not seen. The suspect fled with cash and no injuries were reported.

Durham police described the suspect as a white male, approximately 40 years old, 5’ 11” tall, with a thin build. He was described as having light-colored hair and scruffy facial hair. The suspect was wearing a thin black headband, a black coat, and yellow tinted glasses.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Investigator S. Wheeler at (919) 560-4583, ext. 29370 or CrimeStoppers at (919) 683-1200. CrimeStoppers pays cash rewards for information leading to arrests in felony cases and callers never have to identify themselves.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/durham-police-invesitgating-bank-robbery/