Light Rail Showed Promise for Easing Triangle Traffic, Expanding Research

A rail car on the Lynx Blue Line, part of Charlotte’s light rail system that was opened in 2007 ( Image )

A rail car on the Lynx Blue Line, part of Charlotte’s light rail system that was opened in 2007 (Image)


Last month, the Research Triangle Regional Public Transportation Authority, known as GoTriangle, voted to end the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project. The proposal could have revolutionized transportation in the Triangle, reducing vehicle emissions and enabling increased innovation between universities in the area. One of the main problems with the Triangle’s population boom is that the traffic has grown unmanageable; the Triangle light rail would have helped ease traffic tensions, especially among working demographics. A report on how traffic in the Triangle compares to congestion in other cities found that drivers in Raleigh spent 18 hours in traffic in 2016, and drivers in Durham spent 9.5 hours. As the business and research sectors of the Triangle continue to develop, the number of hours spent idling on highways will only increase. The light rail would have decreased congestion on the road, as commuters would have had the choice to take the eco-friendly, traffic-free, and fast mode of transportation to work or school.

This streamlined transportation process would have allowed for quick and easy sharing of information and talent among research sites and universities. By connecting three reputable schools in the Triangle area, the light rail would have allowed students, professors, and researchers to collaborate in person and share ideas. College campuses offer particularly limited parking, and many students do not have cars or reliable ways to travel efficiently. Providing fast and direct transportation to other resources would enable students to broaden their learning experiences. Additionally, research professionals would have had the opportunity to visit the schools or other nearby labs in a few short trips on the light rail.

The Triangle light rail would have decreased emissions and vehicle miles traveled as professionals, especially staff at Duke and UNC Hospitals and all three connected universities, and students, would not need to drive to work. A study from the journal Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy notes that general building and community emissions standards would need to change to ensure that decreased emissions by transportation through the rail are not negated by other emissions. The same study indicates that the light rail would decrease transportation emissions as people would have opted to use this reliable and cheap transportation instead of their own vehicles, and that the system would have encouraged green redevelopment and sustainability around the stops. Additionally, the light rail would have decreased vehicle miles traveled on local highways.

The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project was an exciting venture into transportation innovation. However, these plans were dashed by Duke University’s refusal to budge on allowing this new transportation to pass by the school. Though it seems like there is no hope for the project moving forward, the money and time spent planning this project were not completely wasted; the idea opened up North Carolina’s dialogue surrounding transportation. The Triangle is a national hub for innovation and research, so installing a light rail or similar transportation method would further push the area onto the main stage of national activity. Perhaps a similar project will pass through every hoop in the future, propelling the Triangle into the future of business and transportation.