Different Views Remain on Light Rail Project

Construction on the Durham-Orange Light Rail won’t start until 2019, and service isn’t expected to begin until 2025, but it’s already a contentious issue.

Transit officials and community members discussed the development of the project at Tuesday’s WCHL Community Forum.

The 17-mile light rail line will run from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to the Duke and VA Hospitals in Durham.

The project is expected to cost about $1.5 billion, 50 percent will come from the federal government, 25 percent will come from a local sales tax and the remaining 25 percent would come from the state.

Last year the legislature put a cap of $500,000 on light-rail, which effectively halted the project.

Patrick McDonough, manager of planning for GoTriangle, said they were working to get the cap removed. McDonough said he believes a House Committee will recommend removing the cap to the rest of the General Assembly soon.

“We are confident that there is a chance to address the cap to get it removed,” said McDonough.

Alex Cabanes, a community activist, is against the light rail and is instead advocating for a new bus system.

“Light rail might not be the best solution for our particular environment and things like BRT, or bus rapid transit, would potentially be more compelling for the area,” said Cabanes.

Bus Rapid Transit involves building dedicated lanes, so buses can travel unobstructed by traffic.

Chapel Hill council Member Ed Harrison, said the light rail trains would simply have more capacity than buses.

“Any bus we know in the world can safety carry no more than 100 people. A rail vehicle, that by the way last two and half times as long as a bus very likely, I believe it’s up to 500 people,” said Harrison.

Chapel Hill is considering a Bus Rapid Transit system in the North South Corridor, along Martin Luther King Boulevard, but not as a substitute for the light rail system.

Harrison said the Bus Rapid Transit system would still be a major reconstruction project for the town.

Patrick McDonough said the light rail would be integrated with the local bus and sidewalk systems, to allow people to travel easily around the area.

“We’ve set aside money in the Durham County bus and rail investment plan and the Orange County plans to try to deliver those bus and sidewalk projects as effectively as we can,” said McDonough.


Estes Drive, Light Rail, BRT On Town Transportation Agenda

Interested in biking? walking? busing? light railing? just getting around in general?

Next week, the Town of Chapel Hill is holding a pair of public meetings on the future of local transportation.

The first will be on Tuesday, February 9, from 5-7 pm in the first floor conference room of Town Hall. It’ll be a “drop-in” session (you don’t have to be there for the full two hours) to gather public feedback on a trio of proposals for new bike lanes and multi-use paths along Estes Drive from MLK to Caswell, to make biking and walking safer and easier. The Estes Drive project grew out of the Chapel Hill Bike Plan and the Central West Small Area Plan; it will be a $2.3 million construction project, with most of the money coming from federal funding. (Town planners are gathering feedback to develop a final proposal for the Chapel Hill Town Council, with a vote planned sometime before the Council breaks for the summer. Construction itself is slated to begin later this year.)

Get more info on the meeting, including a look at the three alternative designs for Estes Drive.

The town is also holding a meeting on Wednesday, February 10, on various topics related to public transit including buses, bus rapid transit, the ongoing North-South corridor study, and the future of light rail. This meeting will take place in Town Council chambers (also in Town Hall) from 7-9 pm. The town’s Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board is hosting the meeting; board members will use public feedback to provide future recommendations to the Town Council.

Chapel Hill Long Range and Transportation Planning Manager David Bonk discussed both meetings this week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


More And More Commuting Across County Lines

For years, local policymakers have been trying to create opportunities for people who live in Orange County to work in Orange County – and for people who work in Orange County to live here too.

But every day, thousands of Orange County residents get in their cars and drive to work somewhere else – and thousands of people who live somewhere else get in their cars and drive to work here.

“40,000 people drive into Orange County every morning, 37,800 people drive out of Orange County every morning – and (only) 19,000 folks wake up and work in Orange County,” says Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson.

And he adds that the number of people both living and working in Orange County has been trending downward for more than a decade. “45 percent of (Orange County residents) in 2002 lived here and worked here,” he says. “That’s down now to 34 percent.”

Among other things, Nelson says, this poses a challenge for our transit plan.

“We’ve designed an entire transit system to move people within our community,” he says. “If we’re more regionally employed, what is that going to mean for our transportation solutions?”

And while we often assume that people who commute into Orange County do so because they can’t afford to live here, Nelson says that may actually not be the case.

“We (think) we’re exporting high-wage white-collar workers and importing unskilled, semi-skilled work – but it’s not true,” he says. “19,000 people drive out for a job that pays $40,000 or more – and 19,500 people drive in for a job that pays $40,000 or more. We have 6,800 people driving out for a job that pays less than $15,000 – and we have almost the exact same number of people driving in (for similar-paying jobs).

“When we look at these as percentages, they’re really – shockingly – the same.”

What that means, Nelson says, is that addressing this issue may not be simply a matter of building more low-cost housing – it might also be about making connections.

“We must better connect local workers with local work opportunity, and that will dramatically change our in- and out-commute,” he says. “If we can specifically try to employ folks that live in our market, that will have great positive change – for the environment, for the lack of civic participation that happens when we commute, and the roads that we have to build and the transit system.”

And Nelson says it’s especially important to start making those connections now – because this trend, fewer and fewer people living and working in Orange County, is especially pronounced among residents under 30.

“There are 600 fewer young people – 15 percent fewer young people – living and working in our community over a two-year period,” he says. “That’s a trend I do not like.”

Nelson made those comments last month while delivering his annual State of the Community report.

You can check out the full report here.


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.


Lavelle, Other Electeds Tour Future Light Rail Line

The light-rail line connecting Durham and Chapel Hill is still more than a decade away from becoming a reality – but planners are already hammering out the details about the specific path that line will trace, and they’re hoping to have some of those questions answered this spring.

With that in mind, about 10 elected officials and other municipal staff – including Carrboro mayor Lydia Lavelle – went on a bus tour earlier this week to trace the proposed line for themselves.

Mayor Lavelle spoke to WCHL’s Aaron Keck about the tour and the proposal on Friday.


Planners are seeking public opinion now about the proposed line – trying to balance the needs of commuters, businesses and residents with a larger concern for protecting environmentally sensitive areas. When it’s completed, the light-rail line will connect Chapel Hill and the UNC campus with Duke University and downtown Durham.

Durham Orange Light Rail Transit Project Map

To learn more about the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project and to offer your feedback and input, visit OurTransitFuture.com.


Carrboro Town Leaders Ready for First Meeting of 2015

The Board of Alderman is setting up for a very busy 2015 with their first meeting of the new year, on Tuesday night. There are several large agenda items for leaders of the Town of Carrboro.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle says she is expecting to see new developments concerning the Martin Luther King Jr. Park Master Plan.

“I do think citizens that are interested in the Martin Luther King Jr. Park will be interested in seeing what kinds of proposals are being made,” she says. “A couple of concept designs are going to be coming forward to us, after some community gatherings where we received a lot of input.”

The board will also be presented with information regarding the state of the transit system and suggestions to increase sustainability going forward.

“Every year [the transit system] is a huge project to grapple our hands around,” she says. “It’s one of the hallmarks of our community, but it is one that continues to increase in costs.”

The presentation is expected to be very similar to the arrangement brought before the Chapel Hill Town Council, last week.

The transit system is a large budget item, according to Mayor Lavelle, but she says there are several other key areas in building a new budget this year.

She says certain town costs are guaranteed to increase.

“We always have rising health care costs,” she says. “It’s always a given that, whatever our line item is for our employees and health care, that’s always going to go up a little.”

Lavelle says it will be important to see how much revenue the town is able to bring in during tax collection.

“In general, property taxes have stayed the same or gotten better,” she says. “With the hotel and different things, our commercial tax base should look pretty good.”

The mayor adds town leaders typically offer a conservative sales tax estimate, which could lead to additional revenue on top of projections.

The Board of Alderman meeting will be held at the Carrboro Town Hall beginning at 7:30 Tuesday evening and is open to the public.



CH Town Council Talks Traffic, Transit Around Obey Creek

Thursday night, the Chapel Hill Town Council discussed the proposed Obey Creek development’s effect on traffic and transit. The council also discussed plans for walkways and bike paths in and around the development.

Craig Scheffler, transportation engineer for the HNTB Corporation, presented the effects of the increased ridership on each bus line in the area. He pointed out the buses that would be over capacity during peak hours.

During the public comment period, resident Jeanne Brown expressed concerns about the traffic and transit analysis. She said this about the transit report prepared for the meeting:

“It really missed the mark to a conversation that’s very important to this town and to that particular development.”

Brown said the report should look more into bus capacity, weekend and night bus service, and other factors.

Brian Litchfield, director of Chapel Hill Transit, acknowledged that the analysis assumed the full capacity of a bus to include sitting passengers plus standing passengers.

“The baseline that we were using as far as capacity of the vehicles was 60. That’s a fairly full 40 foot bus,” said Lichfield. “There’s 37 to 38 seats on that bus so that’s assuming there are people standing on that bus.”

Changing the definition of capacity to include only sitting passengers would change the projected results.

The council passed a resolution in June of this year authorizing the town to enter negotiations with the developer, subject to receipt and review of traffic impact, fiscal impact, and environmental impact analyses.

Thursday’s conversation will help prepare the town to negotiate with Obey Creek Ventures, LLC.

The Chapel Hill Town Council calendar is full of “special meetings” over the next five months to talk about the proposed development. The council will meet Monday at Town Hall for another session focused on Obey Creek.


Orange County to Increase Bus Services

On Tuesday night in Chapel Hill the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to expand bus services in Orange County over the next five years.

Orange County Planning Director Craig Benedict presented details of the five year expansion to the board.

“We will be talking about, roughly, seven routes that we’ll be able to put into operation in the spring of next year after we receive some buses,” said Benedict.

Orange Public Transportation, which serves rural areas of the county, will coordinate with Triangle Transit Authority and Chapel Hill Transit.

The county plans to add bus service from Cedar Grove to Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. Efland will also be connected to Hillsborough.

Full sized Buses cost about $450,000 each. Benedict said the county will buy small, 20-passenger buses for the expanded service. “Our buses are really only about $75,000 total a piece,” said Benedict.

The bulk of the money will come from the one-half cent sales tax increase and vehicle registration fee that voters approved in 2012. The county started collecting this money in April 2013. The county estimates the expansion will cost between $100,000 and $500,000 each year for the next five years.

Benedict said the county will gather data on how many people are using the buses. He said routes and schedules will be adjusted to ensure efficient use of the buses.


Launch Chapel Hill; Book Sale; Chapel Hill Transit

CHAPEL HILL – Launch Chapel Hill is accepting applications for the Winter 2014 Accelerator program through November 22.

The program, designed to build successful start-ups, runs 22 weeks from January 6 – June 6, and kicks off with a three day accelerator boot camp.  Two information sessions will take place to inform people about the applications process and tour the space.  The first will be held on Monday, October 28, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and the second will be on Tuesday, November 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

For more information click here.


The Orange County Public Library has announced that Friends of the Carrboro Branch Libraries will host its annual book sale on November 2 from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and November 3 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at McDougle Middle School.

Proceeds from the sale allow Friends of the Carrboro Branch Library to support library programs and purchase material.


Hardcover Books – $1

Trade and regular paperback books -$0.50

DVD’s and CD’s – $1

Coffee Table and Specialty books – as priced

VHS Tapes – FREE

Sunday Bag Sale – $3.00

For more information call Linda Browner at 919-969-8145.


During the evening of October 31, Chapel Hill Transit will end service early on the D, J, NS, and NU routes.

Due to the Franklin Street event on Halloween, safe ride buses will operate from 11:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. along detoured routes.  No buses will operate from the park and ride lots to the Halloween celebration.

For more information click here.


OCPL Celebrates Halloween; Leaf Collection; Safe Ride

CHAPEL HILL – The Orange County Public Library will celebrate Halloween this year by hosting a variety of fun activities and events.

All the events that the OCPL will host are free to the public, and people of all ages are encouraged to attend.  The first event, Countdown to Halloween, takes place on Monday October 21 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the OCPL main library.

The library will screen the world premiere of the Teen Murder Mystery 2013 Film, and hold an after-party including a costume contest, zombie mayhem, and Halloween trivia. For more information click here.


Chapel Hill will begin its annual leaf collection on Monday October 21 and continue through late February.  Residents may place loose leaves and pine straw that is free of debris behind the curb or drainage ditch for pick-up.

Crews will not pick up yard waste that is placed in plastic bags since they are often not compostable.  Instead residents may use 30-gallon paper bags, leave piles, rigid containers, or roll carts available through Public Works Department.

Pick-up for yard waste will be on Thursday for residents who have Monday garbage service, and Friday for residents with Tuesday garbage service.  For more information you can click here.


Chapel Hill transit Safe Ride will not operate on Friday and Saturday this weekend, due to fall break.

The Safe Ride will operate on Halloween from 11:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. along detoured routes.  The Safe Ride will not serve downtown Chapel Hill but will have stops near downtown.  For more information click here.