The Durham Belt Line route, courtesy of the City of Durham.

The city of Durham now owns the 1.7-mile former railroad corridor it plans to turn into an urban greenway known as the Durham Belt Line.

In a press release, the city announced it had purchased the property from The Conservation Fund — which has been holding it for the city — for $7.8 million.

The City Council approved a master plan for the project in August. The Belt Line will wind from downtown, around Old North Durham to Avondale Drive. Altogether, the property purchase includes about eighteen acres along the rail line. 

 “The Durham Belt Line will be a critical piece of our trail network that connects many diverse neighborhoods. We are committed to viewing the development of the trail through a racial equity lens to make sure this wonderful community asset is available to all of our residents,” Mayor Steve Schewel said in the press release. “Our City staff and our community’s trail advocates have worked for more than 20 years to make this project a reality, and this is an exciting day for Durham as we are now a major step closer to making this project happen.”

Concerns have been raised about whether the project would spur gentrification along its route, as green infrastructure has done in other cities. City staff have been tasked with developing an equitable community engagement plan ahead of construction, due back to the City Council early next month. 

Within a quarter-mile of the route, the median household income ranges from $62,000 to $18,000 by census tract, compared with the citywide median income of $50,000. Renters in two census tracts on the route are considered to be severely burdened by housing costs.  

Both the Durham Open Space and Trails Commission and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee has passed equity resolutions calling for transparency, robust public engagement and the hiring of minority-owned businesses. 

The rail line was originally built in the 1890s and functioned for about one hundred years. Plans to convert it into a greenway have been in the works for about twenty years. The city tried unsuccessfully to acquire the corridor from Norfolk Southern Railway, and The Conservation Fund began working to acquire it in 2014. 

The Belt Line project would connect to the future 1.7 million-square-foot Innovation District, the South Ellerbe Stormwater Restoration Project, the Goose Creek Trail in Northeast Central Durham, and eventually the three-thousand-mile-long East Coast Greenway.

Here’s the full press release:

City of Durham Acquires Belt Line Rail Corridor by Sarah on Scribd