With the future of the Durham-Orange Light Rail in the balance, supporters call on Duke to donate land

February 8, 2019
Durham County leaders now say they can afford to provide the funding for a $57.6 million shortfall in the Durham-Orange light rail project.

After years of discussions, the Durham-Orange Light Rail is still not a done deal, and the participation of Duke University, a key stakeholder, remains unclear.

Supporters of the project held a rally Thursday evening, calling on Duke to do what they say is “the right thing” and donate the land needed for the light rail.

GoTriangle is asking Duke to donate land, but it has not done so yet.

“We are working with GoTriangle to address the university’s continuing concerns about aspects of the construction and operations of the light rail system that could compromise community health, research and patient safety at Duke,” university officials said in a statement.

The light rail line would stretch 18 miles from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to the campus of North Carolina Central University in Durham, with 12 proposed stops along the way. But for the line to become reality, Duke University must donate land where the line would cross its campus.

Wib Gulley went to Duke, then went on to be Durham’s mayor.

“If Duke doesn’t choose to support the project, it’ll kill it,” he said. “My story shows how Duke and Durham are really woven together.”

He’s now with the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit, one of the group’s behind the rally.

He says, for Duke’s relationship with Durham, the university needs to commit. Gulley said the light rail is critical.

“We need it because this is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country and has been for a number of years,” he said.

He hopes his alma mater will do what he calls the right thing.

“We’re hopeful and encouraged Duke can make the right choice,” Gulley said.

The latest estimates from GoTriangle show the light rail would cost at least $2.5 billion.

In order to be eligible for state funds to cover part of that, the transit authority needs Duke to sign on by April 30.

In addition to that deadline, there is a Feb. 28 deadline for Duke University to sign a cooperative agreement with GoTriangle, which officials describe as a commitment from Duke that they will continue to work with GoTriangle toward their goals.