The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project is picking up steam as the Chapel Hill Town Council considers how to approach the construction of train stops in the area.

Gateway Planning Group President Scott Polikov briefed council members earlier this week on design philosophies for six local light rail stations that stand to be built.

A call for conscientious development was made by Council Member Michael Parker, who used a prospective station site to make a point about nearby neighborhoods.

“The Gateway station area is still an underdeveloped part of town, so I think that we need to make sure that we’re also thinking about how — if there were no rail to come — how do we also consider these parts of town as ways of still generating good neighborhoods, and perhaps the rail is substituted for by just ordinary buses or something we haven’t even figured out yet,” he stated.

The design philosophies espoused by Polikov and his firm include environmental complexity, which Council Member Ed Harrison cited as a concept that promotes aesthetics.

“It’s one of the reasons why it’s so painless to walk across a university campus a long way from the bus you just got off — it’s because it’s an interesting place to be,” he explained. “It’s one of the reasons why when I’m crossing, say, southern Durham County, I will often opt for lower roads than I-40 because I’ll stay alert and happy seeing things even if I’m stopping at lights.”

A preference for keeping stations connected without compromising those aesthetics was voiced by Council Member Maria Palmer in her comments on unified local development.

“We need to be a little more proactive, because I think if we don’t have some landscape architectural view from a path, looking at connective tissue, we’re going to end up with beautiful stations and hopefully vibrant communities, but […] it’s going to be, ‘Okay, we’re going to pass [through]; close your eyes because here comes the car wash,'” she offered.

According to Ben Hitchings, the municipal director of planning and development services, those sentiments are already being considered by town planners.

“Already, the six station areas, many of them already align with the future focus areas on our current future land use map, so particularly the three stations in the [North Carolina Highway 54] corridor — the Gateway station as well — are already places that we’ve talked about as a community, trying to encourage mixed use and more activity,” he relayed.

Sites near Meadowmont Village, UNC Hospitals and the Red Roof Inn on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard have been designated by project planners as station locations.

Work on the stations and the planned 17-mile rail corridor is expected to begin if the Federal Transit Administration agrees to provide a portion of the $3.3 billion needed for the project.

Image by Gateway Group.