Within a few weeks, GoTriangle will learn whether the $3.3 billion Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project will be allowed to move to the next phase of a federal grant application process.

If the Federal Transit Administration gives the OK, the DOLRT can move from the project development phase to the engineering and design phase. GoTriangle communications director Mike Charbonneau says some design work has already been done in terms of environmental assessment, mapping the 17.7-mile route, and initial engineering work.

“If the project is approved in the final federal budget and moved into construction in 2020, the project in its entirety is eligible for a fifty percent match,” Charbonneau says. “The federal match is critical to get the project done. As important as light rail is to Durham and Orange counties, clearly it couldn’t be built without this funding.”

There’s the catch: although GoTriangle remains optimistic about the project’s viability, there’s a chance the federal funding will fall through.

A budget proposal put forth by President Trump for fiscal year 2018 would only award grants to projects with existing FTA agreements. This one doesn’t meet that criteria. Without federal funding, everything is on hold.

“Nationally and locally, everyone is watching but also feeling confident that the federal discussion and budget processes will recognize the value of transit,” Charbonneau says.

According to the FTA, moving into the project development phase is not a guarantee that the project will ultimately be funded.

“The president’s budget proposal includes no funding for new [Capital Investment Grant] projects, and thus project sponsors that do not yet have construction grant agreements acknowledge they are undertaking additional work at their own risk which may not receive CIG funding,” an FTA spokesperson said in an email to the INDY.

If all goes as planned, construction is expected to be complete in 2028, with the system becoming operational in 2029.

This article appeared in print with the headline “The $3B Question”