GoTri­an­gle has 2 light-rail pacts after ad­dress­ing Chapel Hill con­cerns

The Herald Sun - - Front Page - BY TAMMY GRUBB AND DAWN BAUMGARTNER VAUGHAN [email protected]­ald­sun.com [email protected]­sob­server.com

One of roughly a dozen crit­i­cal Durham-Or­ange light rail agree­ments was ap­proved late Wed­nes­day after a two-hour dis­cus­sion, mostly about when the agree­ment might ex­pire.

The Chapel Hill Town Coun­cil first saw the agree­ment – which out­lines town poli­cies and stan­dards that GoTri­an­gle would fol­low if the light-rail tran­sit project is built – last week.

The vote was de­layed to this week to give town staff time to en­sure the agree­ment cov­ered the com­mu­nity’s in­ter­est in stormwa­ter and noise con­trols, how large trac­tion power sub­sta­tion boxes could look and project over­sight.

The planned 17.7-mile ligh­trail line will con­nect UNC Hospi­tals in Chapel Hill to Duke and N.C. Cen­tral uni­ver­si­ties in Durham. Only six stops are in Chapel Hill; three are on UNC prop­erty.

On Wed­nes­day, coun­cil mem­bers voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove a re­vised agree­ment that would ex­pire April 30, 2020, in­stead of Dec. 31, 2021.

The vote fol­lowed a Durham City Coun­cil vote late Mon­day to ap­prove a sim­i­lar agree­ment, but with the 2021 dead­line.

The Chapel Hill dead­line was a com­pro­mise be­tween mem­bers con­cerned the later date would al­low GoTri­an­gle to keep spend­ing money even if the project doesn’t re­ceive fed­eral fund­ing next year, and GoTri­an­gle of­fi­cials con­cerned about how an­other de­lay could af­fect the project’s Fed­eral Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion score.

The FTA has given GoTri­an­gle un­til the end of next week to pro­vide more in­for­ma­tion about its crit­i­cal agree­ments, in­clud­ing agree­ments with Duke Univer­sity, which still is ne­go­ti­at­ing with GoTri­an­gle about light rail on Er­win Road.

If an agree­ment hits a snag, the FTA will con­sider that ad­di­tional risk and re­quire a higher con­tin­gency bud­get to cover it.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hem­minger pushed for a coun­cil vote Wed­nes­day, “be­cause adding a con­tin­gency fund amount on there that’s big makes the project cost even more, and more money has to go to that than to the project.”

The dead­line does not af­fect GoTri­an­gle’s abil­ity to spend money on the project, be­cause that is con­trolled by an in­ter­local agree­ment be­tween GoTri­an­gle’s Board of Di­rec­tors and the Or­ange and Durham county com­mis­sion­ers. That agree­ment states that the par­ties will meet within 15 days if the project runs into prob­lems and de­cide how to move for­ward.

Since a de­ci­sion may not be reached right away, the Chapel Hill dead­line ex­pires about six months after a fed­eral fund­ing de­ci­sion is ex­pected. The state has set a Novem­ber 2019 dead­line for hav­ing the project fund­ing in place, or it may not re­ceive state fund­ing.

Coun­cil mem­ber Michael Parker noted that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is not bound by the state dead­line and has de­layed some fund­ing agree­ments for tran­sit pro­jects in the past few months.

“I think that the re­al­ity is it’s not so much that the feds would de­cline to fund this, so much as they might not make that de­ci­sion within the time­frame im­posed by the state leg­is­la­ture, be­cause that’s what the Novem­ber 2019 dead­line is all about,” Parker said. “It has noth­ing to do with the FTA. I think what GoTri­an­gle is try­ing to achieve here is some breath­ing space.”

Other con­cerns in­cluded noise, par­tic­u­larly at the planned Rail Main­te­nance and Op­er­a­tions Fa­cil­ity on 25 acres be­tween Far­ring­ton Road and In­ter­state 40, and how rail trans­former boxes — roughly the size of a small mo­bile home — would look.

The rail fa­cil­ity is in­side the Durham city lim­its, so Chapel Hill does not have any au­thor­ity over how it is zoned or built, but coun­cil mem­bers were con­cerned about how it could af­fect nearby neigh­bors who do live in the town.

The Durham City Coun­cil also re­zoned the land for the rail cen­ter on Mon­day.

In­terim project di­rec­tor John Tall­madge as­sured the coun­cil that light-rail noises would fall within ac­cept­able ranges un­der the town’s noise or­di­nance. GoTri­an­gle an­a­lyzed the po­ten­tial noise as part of the re­quired fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal study and will do live noise test­ing be­fore launch­ing the rail ser­vice, he said. Any prob­lems will be re­solved, and ad­di­tional test­ing is planned over time, he added.

The noise or­di­nance does make ex­cep­tions for pub­lic safety, which means the train’s bell won’t be reg­u­lated, he said, but there won’t be any noise is­sues at Creek­side Ele­men­tary School, which is a quar­ter-mile from the rail fa­cil­ity. The wheels could squeal as they make tight turns at the rail fa­cil­ity, but Tall­madge said that will be mit­i­gated by lu­bri­cat­ing the rails and wheels.

“The sound gen­er­ated by those is sig­nif­i­cantly qui­eter than a city bus ac­cel­er­at­ing down the street,” he added. “We’ve had dif­fi­culty get­ting peo­ple to be­lieve that mes­sage, un­der­stand that mes­sage, but that’s the fact.”

GoTri­an­gle also will sub­mit its trans­former boxes to the town’s Com­mu­nity De­sign Com­mis­sion ad­vi­sory ap­pear­ance re­view, Tall­madge said. Three boxes will be in­stalled along the light rail line in Chapel Hill: two on UNC’s cam­pus and one near Stan­cell Drive off N.C. 54.

GoTri­an­gle staff also will work with the town to give reg­u­lar up­dates and hold work­shops re­lated to the de­sign and con­struc­tion process, he said.

DURHAM VOTE

The Durham City Coun­cil also made a few changes to its agree­ment be­fore vot­ing unan­i­mously Mon­day to ap­prove its GoTri­an­gle co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment.

City At­tor­ney Pa­trick Baker sent coun­cil mem­bers a memo Mon­day that ad­justed lan­guage in the city’s agree­ment with GoTri­an­gle to re­flect that the down­town light rail plan is not fi­nal. The city will ad­vise GoTri­an­gle about the plan, which will need fi­nal ap­proval by the GoTri­an­gle Board of Trustees.

Also Mon­day, DPAC Gen­eral Man­ager Bob Klaus wrote a let­ter to the mayor and city man­ager op­pos­ing GoTri­an­gle’s plan to close Black­well Street to cars. Black­well and Mangum streets are listed as a pos­si­ble 19th light-rail stop on the 17.7mile route. It would be the third down­town Durham stop along with Durham Sta­tion and Dil­lard Street.

Baker wrote that the city agree­ment with GoTri­an­gle could au­tho­rize clos­ing and re­con­fig­ur­ing these road if needed for ligh­trail con­struc­tion:

One-way West Pet­ti­grew A Street east­bound from East Chapel Hill Street to South Dil­lard Street.

Two-way Ram­seur A Street from South Dil­lard Street to East Chapel Hill Street.

Rais­ing West Pet­ti­grew A Street’s pro­file as re­quired to pro­vide safe rail cross­ings.

Clos­ing Black­well A Street at the North Carolina Railroad rail cross­ing.

One-way South Dil­lard A Street south­bound at the North Carolina Railroad rail cross­ing.

Al­ter in­ter­sec­tions A in­clud­ing Greg­son Street, Duke Street, Black­well Street, South Mangum Street, Vi­vian Street, South Dil­lard Street, and Grant Street, as re­quired to al­low for safe rail cross­ings.

Mayor Pro Tem Jil­lian John­son told a res­i­dent in an email Mon­day that the coun­cil had not re­ceived a for­mal re­quest to close Black­well Street, and called it a sub­ject of “on­go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

DEN­VER FASTRACKS Con­trib­uted

A crane low­ers a 40-ton trac­tion power sub­sta­tion into place for the Den­ver FasTracks light-rail sys­tem. The sub­sta­tion, sim­i­lar to the sub­sta­tions that would be placed along the Durham-Or­ange light rail line, is about the size of a small mo­bile home.

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