FRA's formal approval, offered Tuesday, Feb. 25, authorizes Triangle Transit to proceed with plans for a 17-mile LRT line. FTA turned down a proposed 28-mile plan linking Durham and Raleigh, the state capital, in 2006.
"We can now proceed to complete the environmental process, advance our engineering and make final alignment decisions," Triangle Transit General Manager David King said in a statement. "We will also use this time to strengthen our financial plan and work with our municipal and university partners on land use and housing issues around stations. We appreciate FTA's vote of confidence in our work on this project."
An environmental impact statement (EIS) would be issued in early 2016, with engineering work to follow. Construction would absorb at least four more years after that, Triangle Transit said.
Residents, planners and elected officials in Wake, Durham and Orange counties have spent the past eight years collaborating and arguing over plans for new trains and beefed-up bus service to serve the fast-growing region.
Durham and Orange counties for nearly a year have collected a half-cent sales tax intended to provide local funds for the LRT line, as part of any match with federal funding for the $1.34 billion estimated cost.
The current 17-mile proposal, with some portions of the route still in flux, would run (west-to-east) from UNC Hospitals Station in Chapel Hill to Alston Ave./North Carolina Central University Station in eastern Durham.
East of that route, Wake County, which includes Raleigh and nearby Wake Forest, so far is not participating in the fiscal or planning effort; Wake County commissioners reportedly so far have refused to take up a transit plan developed in 2011 by Triangle Transit and county officials.
Last autumn Triangle Transit offered a "virtual" tour of the proposed LRT system to area residents, with the video serving as part of the scoping process required as part of the project's environmental assessment.