Monday, July 31, 2017

Durham-Orange County light rail enters engineering phase

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The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has approved the Durham and Orange County light-rail project to enter the engineering phase, which maintains the project's eligibility for more than $1 billion in federal money.

FTA received the revised transit plans from the counties and determined the project to be justified under federal review criteria. As stakeholders for the project explain, advancing into the engineering phase of the federal Capital Investment Grant Program is a significant milestone for the project.

The FTA approval letter read in part: "FTA has determined that GoTriangle has the technical capacity and capability to effectively manage the engineering phase of the project."

"This is great news for the people of Durham and Orange counties and the teams in both counties working so hard together to receive the federal approval needed to take the light-rail project from planning to construction," said Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, who is also a GoTriangle board member. "The light rail will give our communities an option for a congestion-free commute with predictable travel times and offer direct connections to three hospitals, three major universities and job centers. It also will help create thousands of new jobs for our region."

FTA evaluated the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit (D-O LRT) project and issued favorable ratings in three major areas: the local financial commitment, the justification for the project and the project's engineering readiness. FTA's favorable justification rating is based on mobility improvements, environmental benefits, congestion relief, economic development effects, land use and cost-effectiveness.

The federal government is expected to fund 50 percent of the project's $2.47 billion design and construction costs, contingent on the remaining 50 percent coming from a combination of existing dedicated local transit funds, state funds and other private contributions. The D-O LRT project is eligible for up to 10 percent in state funding. The local funds will come from vehicle registration fees, car rental fees and a half-cent transit tax approved by voters in Orange County and Durham County.

The two counties will pay approximately $890 million of the project's cost from those dedicated transit revenues, which also will provide money for operations and maintenance, as well as reserve funds for repair needs. GoTriangle and its local government, community and institutional partners will work together to raise additional money through philanthropic, in-kind and corporate donations.

In December 2016, FTA approved the addition of a light-rail station at North Carolina Central University and amended its Record of Decision to approve a 17.7-mile light-rail line with 18 stations spanning from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to NCCU in Durham.

GoTriangle says it will continue working with a general engineering consultant to complete the detailed design work needed to construct the D-O LRT project. Construction is expected to begin in 2020, with service beginning in 2028.

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