Durham is at the Cusp

Guest post by Wendy Jacobs T’83 | Chair of Durham Board of County Commissioners

The decisions we make today about transit will decide the future of Durham and our region. Over the past 15 years we have experienced transformative change.  American Tobacco, DPAC and the Durham Bull’s Stadium were the first of many catalyzing projects spurred by city, county and private sector investments. The restoration and reuse of all of Durham’s signature historic downtown properties is now complete, with the role of Duke University, often as the stabilizing first tenant.  We are now in the second wave as development shifts upward and outward from the downtown core. Durham’s skyline is changing before our eyes.

Durham is also at a turning point. What type of city will we be? Will we continue to be diverse, welcoming, creative, inclusive, collaborative? The amazing local food scene, the vibrancy of people on the streets, the innovation of new ideas and companies rooted in Durham’s entrepreneurial ecosystem are fueling  our economy.  How will we preserve the ingredients that created this vitality in the first place- affordable housing so that people of diverse racial and economic backgrounds can live in our city, affordable retail and office space so that small businesses, artists, and non- profits can thrive, and the diversity found in our established and historic surrounding neighborhoods? These are the challenges that Durham faces.  Transit is one of our most important tools to help guide Durham’s future and deal with these challenges.

The proposed Durham- Orange Light Rail and the Durham-Wake Commuter Rail systems will link together the Triangle and its three anchors- Wake, Durham and Orange Counties -and each of our municipalities, major educational institutions, and largest employers. This integrated transit infrastructure will help us fight poverty, offer access to good jobs and support affordable and workforce housing. Fixed rail corridors will create a transit option independent of our already congested roads.  Durham’s population is projected to increase by 50% from 2010-2035.  Where will the million additional people expected to come to the Triangle region by 2050 live and work? A fixed rail corridor plans for this future by encouraging compact, high density mixed use development around each of the train stations and mitigating the negative impacts of traffic, sprawl, air and water pollution,  while protecting our farmland and open spaces.

With 16% of our residents and 25% of our children in Durham living in poverty, many spending more than 40% of their income on housing and transportation, light rail and commuter rail will help us address these disparities with access to affordable housing and transportation.  Transit oriented development can reduce developer costs for parking and support market forces for increased affordable housing. Rail transit infrastructure will help lay the foundation to ensure the continued flow of ideas, people, talent, creativity, and opportunity in Durham and the Triangle region. A seamless, integrated transit system will help Durham be a great place to live and work for everyone in our community  and keep us on a  trajectory to be one of the most attractive, vital and vibrant places in the state, nation and world. This decision about who Durham will be is now ours to make.