Top 10 Things You Want to Know About Project Development: 4-5

Happy Monday, Triangle! Not feeling quite so happy? You may be sipping an afternoon cup of coffee, and rightfully so – researchers have labeled today “Sleepy Monday,” the first work day following Daylight Savings Time (USA Today). In the spirit of making things a little easier today, we’ve continued our Project Development Q&A series with just two questions. Instead of throwing you head first into technical jargon or acronyms, we’re breaking down the Project Development stage of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project for you. If you’re just starting our series, click here to read Meghan’s answers for questions 1-3 in last week’s Project Development Q&A. Otherwise, read on:

4)      What is Project Development?

Meghan:  It’s March, so let’s relate this question to NCAA Basketball’s March Madness! After all, the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project would connect major basketball rivals, UNC and Duke!

How exactly does Project Development relate to the basketball championship frenzy known as “March Madness,” you ask?

Well, by receiving permission to enter Project Development, the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project has officially been selected by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to enter the “big dance” and compete for federal funding through the New Starts program. For you basketball fanatics, this means Triangle Transit made it through “Selection Sunday!”

Project Development is like playing in the first round of the championship tournament; it is the first major phase in the competition for “New Starts funds.”

Returning back our favorite FTA diagram


Each project must play by the same rules, abide by the same “game clock,” and complete the same steps; ultimately demonstrating the project’s ability to compete. There are certainly other good projects competing in this round, after all each project must be good enough to compete in the tournament in the first place. But, we are partial to the “home team,” so we believe the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project is one of the best in the tournament!

Like a basketball tournament game, during the Project Development phase, the project will be bound by a “game clock.” For this round, the game clock is 24 months (2 years) long (….yes, much longer than a typical regulation NCAA game!)

This “first round” game “tipped off” on February 25, 2014 with FTA’s letter that initiated the Project Development phase. This initiated the 2-year game clock for Project Development.

Per the requirements of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the legislation that enables the New Starts funding, Triangle Transit must complete the following activities during this 2-year Project Development phase:

  • Complete the environmental review process;
  • Select a locally preferred alternative;
  • Have the locally preferred alternative adopted into the fiscally constrained long range transportation plan; and,
  • Complete the activities required to develop sufficient information for evaluation and rating under the Section 5309 criteria.

So what does this mean?

This means Triangle Transit will prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to disclose the potential impacts (both positive and negative) of the proposed project and project alternatives on the human and natural environment. Triangle Transit will also receive YOUR public comments on the information in the DEIS. Fan or foe, this is your time to shout out and be heard!

Triangle Transit will then prepare a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) based on the public and agency comments received. The FEIS will include the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) (also known as the final alternative and alignment for the proposed project.) This LPA will then be adopted by the Durham-Chapel Hill Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO). The DCHC MPO must also adopt the LPA into the fiscally constrained long range transportation plan (a document containing all financially feasible transportation projects for the DCHC MPO area; this document is locally known as the MTP). Overall, this environmental review process will inform the FTA of the potential impacts and proposed mitigation associated with the proposed project.

Also during this time, Triangle Transit will be going “full-court press” to refine engineering of the proposed project alternatives. The Triangle Transit team must work together with the public to develop the best possible design for the proposed project alternatives. The FTA will then evaluate and rate the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project to determine if it meets the criteria to successfully advance to the next round of the tournament!

The proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project still has a long way to go until we make it to the “Sweet Sixteen,” “Elite Eight” or the “Final Four.” There is still a lot to prove to the federal government – environmental analysis, engineering work to complete, project rating, and other agencies to compete against. The important thing to note right now is that the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project Triangle Transit has officially entered the brackets!

(See the Federal Transit Administration’s FY15 Annual Report on Funding Recommendations

This is your time to cheer on the “home team:” the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project coached by Triangle Transit!

5)      Why do we have to do Project Development?

Meghan: Well, the long and the short… it’s the law!

The law, called Moving Ahead for Progress (MAP-21), authorizes the money for major transit capital projects and establishes the requirements necessary to compete and qualify for a Full Funding Grant Agreement under the “New Starts” program.

If Triangle Transit wants to compete for Fixed Guideway Capital Investment Grants (5309 funds, also known as “New Starts” funds) for the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project (AND WE DO!), we must follow ALL of the project phases outlined by the law. Project Development is one of the required phases (i.e., Project Development, Engineering, and Full Funding Grant Agreement).

That’s it for today! If you have a question about Project Development for Meghan, tweet us @gotriangle or leave a comment below. For more information about the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project, visit

– Grace

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