Of all that was said in Monday night’s public hearing on improving Durham’s railroad crossings, City Councilwoman Diane Catotti had the most positive comment.
“This is an important first step,” she said.
Otherwise, comments on a draft “Traffic Separation Study” ( bit.ly/1h60QRv) were, from citizens, generally negative and, from City Council members, assurances that more study is needed before anything is decided.
“I’m troubled by this,” said Councilman Eugene Brown. “It seems like we need to do a better job, and there’s no need to rush to judgment.”
City Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen said comments from the hearing would help revise the draft report, with a final version ready for City Council review and action in December. It will be up to the council whether to simply accept the report or adopt any of its proposals for further development.
The study deals with 18 grade crossings on the 12.7-mile North Carolina Railroad corridor across Durham County, which is leased to Norfolk Southern Railroad.
In its current form, it has extensive long-term proposals for improving safety and traffic flow at 12 of the crossings. But comments at the hearing dealt almost exclusively with those for downtown, which include closing those at Dillard, Ramseur and Plum street and replacing the Corcoran/Blackwell and Mangum street crossings with underpasses.
“Something like this would really put a damper on downtown redevelopment,” said Douglas Osborn, who is renovating a commercial building on Dillard Street.
Speakers said a proposal to raise the railroad tracks and lower Corcoran/Blackwell, Mangum, Pettigrew and Ramseur streets would separate the Loop area from the American Tobacco district even more than the railroad does already.
“We’re creating a new sort of isolation … a very real wall,” said architect Robyn Heeks.
Deputy County Manager Lee Worsley said closing the Dillard Street crossing would sever connections between county offices near the new Human Services Building and the new courthouse, and could hamper emergency-response vehicles. East Durham resident James Chavis said the closing would only congest Roxboro Street.
“I didn’t think this (study) was going to be able to present us with a solution acceptable to everyone,” said Mayor Bill Bell. “We had to start somewhere.”
Downtown is already divided by the railroad, Bell said, and rail traffic will increase with anticipated high-speed passenger trains, light-rail and commuter-rail traffic.
“If we don’t do anything, it’s not going to get any better,” he said.
The state transportation board put up $140,000 for the study, with Triangle Transit, the city of Durham and Norfolk Southern Railway chipping in $20,000 apiece.