The Federal Transit Authority (FTA) has given the green-light to begin the first steps of a 17-mile light rail project connecting Durham and Orange Counties.
The decision authorizes Triangle Transit to begin development on the project, by studying the potential environmental impact of two proposed rail routes.
Triangle Transit has put together this video "fly-through" of the proposed light rail route:
Triangle Transit's General Manager David King said they have two years to gather their findings before they move on to funding, designing or building the project.
“This is just one step in a long process. When you've got something that takes a decade to do, there are a number of hurdles,” King said. “But this was an important one, and we're very happy about it.”
King said this is a sign that the FTA has faith in the project. It also means area businesses and developers can begin factoring a rail line into their long-term plans.
Durham and Orange counties are collecting a half-cent sales tax to improve transit service. State and federal funding would be needed to cover most of the $1.3 billion project.
King said we probably won't see a working rail line for another decade. But he said this is important for the two counties, where road capacity is already stressed.
“So all of this allows growth to continue without expecting the highway system to have to expand to accommodate it,” said King. “So, the highways system can certainly expand some, but it will not have to absorb all of the trip-making growth that we expect to occur in the next 30 years in Durham and Orange Counties.”
The Durham-Carrboro-Chapel Hill Metropolitan Planning Organization estimates the combined populations of the two counties will grow by more than 50 percent by 2040.