Light Rail, Bull City Connector to Take Center Stage at Durham Council Work Session Thursday | News
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Light Rail, Bull City Connector to Take Center Stage at Durham Council Work Session Thursday

Posted by on Wed, Sep 21, 2016 at 3:00 PM

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The Durham City Council is set to hear a trio of items during its Thursday work session concerning transportation and road-related matters. 

On Monday, GoTriangle announced it was looking at possibly extended the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit line to N.C. Central University.

There is no cost estimate available for the 0.6-mile addition, but we do know that GoTriangle estimates it could be the most-used stop on the line. GoTriangle is asking the city council to amend the "locally preferred alternative" (essentially the DOLRT route) to included a station adjacent to NCCU and then amend the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan to include the amended LPA. 

In a memo sent to the city council from GoTriangle, the transportation agency said: 
During the environmental review of the project, members of the public, project stakeholders, and elected officials identified a number of potential refinements to the design of the project. GoTriangle committed to evaluate these proposals during project engineering. GoTriangle also committed to examine the feasibility of a NCCU Station as part of the [Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization's] 2045 MTP process.

In the spring and summer of 2016, GoTriangle completed preliminary engineering and ridership forecasts for the NCCU Station in order to be prepared for work on the 2045 MTP that the DCHC-MPO would be conducting in the summer and fall of 2016. These analyses indicate that the NCCU Station is technically feasible and would generate very high ridership.
Terry Bellamy, the city's newly hired transportation director, said in a memo to city manager Tom Bonfield: 
There is no direct financial impact for the City of Durham related to this decision. However, the proposed extension has cost implications that could affect the competitiveness and financial viability of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project. The project’s local funding share is to be provided
by the local sales tax and vehicle fees administered by GoTriangle. There may be additional City of Durham costs related to station area infrastructure, impacts to economic development, impacts to City transportation facilities and utilities, etc. 
The current estimates for the DOLRT come in between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion. Funding is split between federal, state, and local funds, with about half—hopefully—covered by the feds. As we know, in 2011 and 2012 Durham and Orange counties voted to approve a one-half cent sales tax to fund DOLRT (and other transportation-related matters). There, of course, has been some recent difficulty with state funding. 

Anyway, it's likely that the city council could give its consent to the extension, because the line, as presently constituted, doesn't extend far enough east to help low-income and minority residents reap light rail’s benefits. It also helps that council members (including Mayor Bill Bell) have mostly been fans of light rail. 

Shifting gears a bit to other public transportation: the city will also hear an update on its partnership with Duke University to provide a free bus service through GoDurham and GoTriangle. The partnership has been ongoing since 2010, when the Bull City Connector started running in downtown. Unlike other bus routes, the city has authority over "all policy, service, pricing, and budget decisions" for the Connector.

Originally intended to run every fifteen minutes during the day and twenty minutes at night and on the weekends, the line has seen some changes. Now it runs about every seventeen minutes during the day. 

A city memo gives some explanation as to what happened: 
Due to growing activity downtown and to construction projects, especially the Main Street bridge replacement over Campus Drive, the frequency of service had to be scaled back to every 20 minutes during the day and every 25 minutes at night and on Saturdays in June of 2013. In 2015, in response to new apartment, hotel, and office development downtown and near Ninth Street, a desire to extend the service farther
west beyond the Duke Medical Center, and falling ridership on the existing route, the City and Duke University agreed to change the routing and frequency. As of August 2015, the new routing stayed on Main Street through downtown, rather than diverting to Durham Station, stayed on Main Street between Ninth Street and Anderson Street, rather than using Erwin Road, and extended to Research Drive on Duke’s West
Campus. The service frequency was improved to run every 17 minutes all day long on weekdays and Saturdays. 
Now the city is faced with some questions it needs to answer: Why has there been a reduction in ridership on the Connector? What are the peak times on weekdays and Saturdays? How does the service interact with other routes in the corridor? What would the impact be of returning the service to Durham Station?

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Ridership has indeed declined following a route change last August took away the most utilized stop—the Durham Station—according to a presentation that will be given on Thursday. 
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The council will also hear a presentation on upgrades to U.S. 70 to from Lynn Road to T.W. Alexander Drive in Raleigh, as well as converting the at-grade intersection of U.S. 70 with Sherron Road and South Miami Boulevard to an interchange. 

Interested in what everything the city council is doing tomorrow? Take a look at the agenda and come on out to City Hall at 1 p.m. tomorrow for the meeting, or just follow along on my Twitter account: @laurenhorsch. 

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