The Durham-Orange light rail system, shown here in a rendering of a proposed downtown Durham station, would run 17.7 miles from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to Duke and N.C. Central universities in Durham. GoTriangle Submitted
The Durham-Orange light rail system, shown here in a rendering of a proposed downtown Durham station, would run 17.7 miles from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to Duke and N.C. Central universities in Durham. GoTriangle Submitted

Durham County

Help plan for growth along planned Durham-Orange Light Rail line Tuesday

By From staff reports

February 05, 2018 03:22 PM


Before the first piece of track touches ground along Orange and Durham counties’ light-rail project, supporters want the community to talk more about making sure growth around the line’s 18 stations meets community goals.

On Tuesday, Feb. 6, GoTriangle, Triangle J Council of Governments and Gateway Planning will bring together experts, local leaders, business owners, developers, transit planners, and community members interested in helping create the framework “for inclusive communities that help the most people prosper,” according to a GoTriangle news release.

The event, called the “Connecting to Opportunity Summit,” will run from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

Too many other U.S. regions have tried to address surging land and housing prices around new transit lines when it’s too late, said Patrick McDonough, manager of Planning and Transit Oriented Development at GoTriangle.

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“As we build the light-rail line and other transit projects in the region, specifically and strategically addressing economic development and affordable housing around the stations is just as important as laying down the track and having trains to run on it,” McDonough said in the release. “Retail, office space and other development near stations will provide job opportunities in highly accessible places, but it’s also imperative that people can afford to live on the line and connect to those opportunities.”

Among the summit speakers will be nationally known experts in affordable housing, the small-house phenomena, transit-oriented development and planning. The agenda includes Meea Kang, senior vice president of Related California and an expert in sustainable design and affordable housing, and Peter French, president of Rising Barn in Texas and an expert in how to use small sustainable homes to create economically diverse communities.

Charlotte, for example, has found there is too little affordable housing along its Blue Line light-rail system, according to the release

“It’s often hard to see the economic and social opportunities in something that is truly new, like a light-rail line,” said John Hodges-Copple, regional planning director for the Triangle J Council of Governments. “With this gathering, we can begin to show both what is achievable and what we can do together to make sure opportunities are available to all. It’s pretty clear that if we want to preserve and create affordable housing along the light-rail line, we are going to have to work hard, invest resources and be creative. And the best way to do that is to bring everyone to the table early in the process.”

Plans for the summit were included in the application that GoTriangle, in partnership with Durham city and county, Chapel Hill and TJCOG, filed seeking a $1.6 million federal grant specifically for transit-oriented development planning. The grant was awarded in 2016.

The $3.3 billion light-rail project, if fully funded, would link 18 stations along a 17.7-mile rail line between UNC Hospitals and N.C. Central University. Six stations would be in Chapel Hill and 12 in the city of Durham.
Illustration courtesy of GoTriangle

Transit-oriented development

The idea of transit-oriented development is to vastly reduce the need for driving by using train stations as “town centers” for creating dense, pedestrian-oriented communities that include offices, homes, retail space, parks, grocery stores and restaurants. Plans usually also call for bicycle-friendly streets and easy connections to bus routes.

“By fostering a sense of place along the light-rail corridor, the Triangle region has an opportunity to not just grow big but to grow well,” Brandon Palanker, a member of the Gateway Planning team, said in the release. “An inclusive approach to development, rooted in neighborhood design, will help create vibrant, walkable neighborhoods that include a range of living choices for people from every part of the community. By marrying land use, transportation and place, this approach will enhance the region’s economic competitiveness nationally, positioning it for responsible growth, attraction of new employment and prosperity at the local level.”

The 17.7-mile light-rail project between Chapel Hill and Durham is one part of approved long-term transit plans. Orange, Durham and Wake counties all have 10-year transit plans in place that also call for greatly expanded bus service that includes routes connecting with the light-rail line and with a planned commuter rail line between Garner in Wake County and Durham.

In July, the Federal Transit Administration approved the light-rail project’s moving into the engineering phase of the federal Capital Investment Grants Program. Construction is expected to begin in 2020. When it opens, anticipated to be in 2028, the line should provide more than 26,000 trips per day as it connects people to three major universities, three major medical facilities and three of the top 10 employers in the state.

The Connecting to Opportunity Summit will open with remarks from former Durham Mayor William V. Bell, a former member of GoTriangle’s Board of Trustees and longtime transit advocate. Among the panel discussion topics will be “Gateway Station + Patterson Place: A case study in opportunity and place-based economic development,” “#Housing4all” and “Shrinking the region by growing together near transit.”

Find an agenda and information about attending the summit at

If you go

What: Connecting to Opportunity Summit

When: Tuesday, Feb. 6, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Durham Performing Arts Center

More info: