Skip to content

Thanks to Duke, Durham's Light Rail Dream Is All But Dead

After 20 years of planning, the North Carolina Research Triangle’s signature transit project is fighting for its life. Why did Duke University pull its support?
This train isn't going anywhere.
This train isn't going anywhere.Rendering by GoTriangle

DURHAM, N.C.—The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project, or DOLRT, is a planned 17.7-mile line linking Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The plan is two decades in the making—born of an ambitious 1990s scheme to stitch the state’s booming Research Triangle region together via rail.

Since then, DOLRT has consumed more than $130 million in public money. In 2011 and 2012, voters in Durham and Orange counties approved half-cent sales taxes to fund transportation improvements, including the light rail, to better connect major employers like UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, N.C. Central University, a VA hospital, and businesses in bustling downtown Durham. Construction of the estimated $2.7 billion project was to start next year; an application to the Federal Transit Administration was due this spring for federal funding of $1.25 billion. The state agreed to contribute $190 million.