SELC, elected officials tour light rail route between Durham, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Elected officials from North Carolina's Triangle area study light rail documents during a bus tour of the route. (© GoTriangle)

The Southern Environmental Law Center joined U.S. Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-1st) and David Price (D-4th) yesterday on a tour of the light rail line that will connect Durham and Chapel Hill. A variety of other local elected officials, members of the local chambers of commerce, and other key stakeholders joined the bus ride along the light rail route. GoTriangle, the regional transit agency overseeing the light rail project, hosted the event.

“A tour like this really helps folk envision how exciting the light rail opportunity is for communities in Chapel Hill and Durham,” said Staff Attorney Kym Hunter. “It is easy to envision the pockets of dense walkable communities that will spring up along the line, much like we’ve seen with the incredibly successful Blue Line project in Charlotte.”

SELC has long been a strong supporter of the proposed light rail line, which will provide an environmentally friendly alternative to automobile travel along the busy corridor between Durham and Chapel Hill. In addition to the direct benefits of taking cars off the road, fixed-guideway systems like light rail help to drive dense, mixed-use development around stations. As the Triangle region continues to attract more people, it becomes even more important to guide growth toward already developed parcels. This planning avoids sprawling land use known to increase local air pollution and water pollution while disturbing natural areas.

For all these reasons, “light rail is the choice of transportation for the future,” as Congressman Butterfield noted on the tour.

Later this month GoTriangle will hear whether it has qualified for federal funding from the Federal Transit Administration. The FTA is expected to fund 50 percent of the project, contingent on the remaining 50 percent coming from a combination of already dedicated local transit funding and state funds. Assuming GoTriangle is successful in securing this funding, the project will next move into the Engineering Phase.

“The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project is a vital component of the Triangle's transportation future,” said Congressman Price on Monday. “Today's tour from UNC to NC Central demonstrated the broad public support for the project in the diverse Orange and Durham County neighborhoods it will serve. As I return to Washington, I will continue fighting for robust federal transit funding to bring the light rail to life.”

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