Durham Receives Grant for Duke Beltline Planning

On September 10th Durham took a first step towards planning for the future acquisition and development of a 2.2 mile rail corridor in downtown Durham. The Duke Beltline is a rail spur that rings the western and northern portions of downtown. Supporters of a rails-to-trails conversion see it as a complement to the American Tobacco Trail and other city greenway projects.
Federal officials have awarded Durham a $222,700 grant the city can use to fund planning for a new trail along the Duke Beltline rail corridor.
U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st, and David Price, D-4th, issued a joint statement Wednesday evening announcing the decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Butterfield made a point of thanking Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, a former mayor of Charlotte, for supporting the application.
The grant replied to an application from the city government, which hopes someday to acquire the downtown-ringing Beltline from the Norfolk Southern Corp.
City Manager Tom Bonfield said the planning work should bolster the city’s case if and when it comes time to seek outside funding for an acquisition. “If we were going to look for philanthropic support from the private sector, the foundation or business world, it was difficult to do that without a plan or strategy or some visual representation of what we’re talking about,” Bonfield said, summarizing the advice officials have solicited from organizations who might be able to help.
Officials will need to come up with a $75,000 local match, with private contributions being a potential source of at least some of that money.
City Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen said in putting together the grant application, officials touched base with Duke University, Downtown Durham Inc. and the people behind the American Tobacco complex and the proposed Durham Innovation District. They “indicated if we were successful [in landing the planning grant], we’d be returning to them,” Ahrendsen said. “They were open to that, but no commitments were made at that time. We will follow up with the private interests that expressed support for the project.”
He added that the grant is supposed to pay for the creation of a master plan for a trail project along the beltline, to include “trail development guidelines, [construction] phasing and a funding strategy.” Officials in assembling the application figured the work will take about a year. It can’t begin until they nail down grant agreements with the federal government and the N.C. Department of Transportation, and select a consultant. The city’s timetable calls for the administrative spadework to be completed by the end of the year and the selection of the consultant to take place by the spring. That would translate into a completed plan sometime in early 2016, Ahrendsen said. Acquisition talks between the city and Norfolk Southern bogged down in 2013 after the railroad said it wants $7.1 million for the corridor. The city had $2 million on hand thanks to a Price-secured federal appropriation. The project gained new life this year when a Virgina-based trust, The Conservation Fund, signaled interest in lending a hand. Its North Carolina operation is led by Bill Holman, a former Sierra Club lobbyist, state administrator and Duke University policy analyst. Bonfield said representatives of The Conservation Fund and the railroad have met several times and, while not making any deals yet, are having “fruitful talks” about the Beltline. Holman confirmed that talks are continuing.

To date, the conversations are about “seeing if we can get together an agreement on what the property is worth,” as a preliminary to figuring out “how to pay for it and how quickly to pay for it,” he said. But “both parties are very interested in working things out,” Holman said. Holman added that the planning grant “will help a lot.”
“There are opportunities to bring other public and private funds into the project,” he said. “Having a great plan developed [using the grant] will aid those interests.”

Bike Ped Funding at Risk in NC

The NC Senate’s proposed transportation budget eliminates $1.2 million in state matching funds for bike/ped programs resulting in a loss of $4.5 million in federal funds - A Total impact of $5.7 million. Although the Senate budget proposal includes language that gives local governments the flexibility to use their Powell Bill funds (generally used only for local road maintenance) as match, under the new Strategic Mobility Formula, Divisions will actually see less Powell Bill funds and therefore are unlikely to use these funds for bike/ped projects when their roadway needs will be far greater. Action Needed: Restore the $1.2 million in state matching funds to enable the most advantageous federal match and more beneficial use of the state funding.

Rail trails and many greenways in North Carolina have benefitted from Bike/Ped funding over the years. The current legislative session will be ending later in June and votes on these budget issues will be coming up soon. If you would like to contact your State representative(s) please use the link below to find out who represents you: http://www.ncleg.net/representation/WhoRepresentsMe.aspx

Preservation Durham Leading Efforts on The Durham Beltline

Map of proposed Durham Beltline

Preservation Durham announced its 2012 Places in Peril list at its annual meeting Wednesday (May 16th) at Pop’s, the third year it has designated historic Durham properties with perilous futures. Six places are on the list, from a downtown railway to a rural farmstead. The 2.2 mile railway corridor known locally as the Durham Beltline, has not seen rail use in several years but still has tracks and is owned by Norfolk Southern Corporation (NSC). The City of Durham attempted to buy the corridor from NSC in 2005 and as recently as late 2011 held discussions with them on purchase/lease options but the two groups are far apart on price. The Beltline would make a fine rail-trail and could connect to the City's greenway system. TRTC, North Carolina Rail-Trails and the Durham Open Space and Trails Committee have been involved in advocacy for this acquisition and will continue to work with other partners such as Preservation Durham on trying to raise awareness and public interest on this project.

NC DOT Starts Study of Rail Crossings in Durham

State officials will hold three meetings this week (Nov. 28--Dec 2) to get public comments on Durham County railroad crossings.
The "visioning workshops" are the start of a "Traffic Separation Study" aimed at improving safety, and the public's opinion matters, said city Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen. "Anything that's done with these crossings ... affects communities as well," he said.
Depending on the study results and cost estimates, some crossings could get stoplights or gates, be converted to over- or underpasses or be closed. Where money for improvements might come from is a question for later, said Sandra Stepney, spokeswoman at the N.C. Department of Transportation Rail Division. "This is just the study phase," she said.
The study covers 18 crossings on the railroad's 12.7-mile corridor between Neal and Cornwallis roads.
Anticipating an increase in passenger traffic on the N.C. Railroad line, the state transportation board appropriated $140,000 for the study, with Triangle Transit, the city of Durham and Norfolk Southern Railway chipping in $20,000 apiece.
In 2004, Norfolk Southern suggested closing the Blackwell Street crossing and offered $4 million to build a pedestrian underpass connecting the American Tobacco and Diamond View office complexes with downtown. City officials refused to go along with the idea and suggested a bridge to carry the tracks over a rebuilt Blackwell Street. The railroad dismissed that proposal as too expensive. The company also dismissed Downtown Durham Inc. CEO Bill Kalkhof's suggestion to rebuild the tracks to run underground.
These workshops will have a "drop-in" format and be held from 5 to 7 p.m. at these locations:

* Monday, Nov. 28: Durham Armory, 212 Foster Street, for downtown crossings between Gregson Street and Driver Street.

* Tuesday, Nov. 29: Trinity Ballroom, Hilton Durham, 3800 Hillsborough Road, for crossings in west Durham between Neal Road and Buchanan Boulevard.

* Thursday, Dec. 1: NC Biotechnology Center, Hamner Conference Center - Glaxo Galleria, 15 T.W. Alexander Drive in RTP, for closings in eastern Durham between Ellis and Cornwallis Roads.

DOT will take written comments until Jan. 6 and pedestrian safety recommendations are due by the end of January. The full study is scheduled to run until April 2013.

To read more please see: http://blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown/ncdot-proposes-to-close-18-stree...

Bull City Open Streets Event --October 9th

Bull City Open Streets (BCOS) will hold their fourth and final 2011 event on Sunday afternoon October 9th. The roads along Central Park and around Durham Athletic Park will be closed to car traffic, making active transportation easy and safe. Event highlights include: dance classes, bicycle powered smoothies, scavenger hunt, food trucks, skate demo, cake-off and much more. For background info, please see the Open Streets Facebook page.

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