Chapel Hill’s Future Transit Network

David BonkChapel Hill 2020 will offer the special topic presentation “Light Rail and Bus Rapid Transit: Chapel Hill’s Future Transit Network” by David Bonk, transportation planner for the Town of Chapel Hill, at noon on Friday, Feb. 10, in the Council Chamber of Chapel Hill Town Hall.

The public is invited to attend or may view the presentation on Chapel Hill Government TV-18 or by streaming video on the Town of Chapel Hill website at 


Light Rail and Bus Rapid Transit: Chapel Hill’s Future Transit Network

By David Bonk

As Chapel Hill plans for the next 10 to 15 years, expansion of the Chapel Hill transit network will be an important consideration. While fixed-route bus service will continue to be the centerpiece of the Chapel Hill transit system the introduction of new transit technologies will impact not only transit service levels but also land use patterns within the Town.

The current proposal for implementing a light rail corridor between Chapel Hill and Durham is part of a larger regional plan to provide both light rail and commuter rail systems linking Chapel Hill, Durham, RTP, Cary and Raleigh. Light rail vehicles, similar to those used along the Charlotte light rail line, are anticipated to operate in three car trains carrying 228 riders. The train would operate on dedicated tracks with electric power provided through overhead lines.

The proposed 17.1 mile corridor between Durham and Chapel Hill would include about 17 stations. In Chapel Hill the light rail corridor would begin on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and connect stations at the Ambulatory Care and Smith Center with a station at Hamilton Road and the Friday Center. From the Friday Center there are two alternative corridor alignments, one serving a station in Meadowmont, while the other alignment includes a station along NC54 just east of Barbee Chapel Road. Both alternative alignments would serve a proposed station at Leigh Village in Durham and then to continue to a Chapel Hill station just east of Blue Cross Blue Shield at the intersection of I-40 and US 15-501. From that point the light rail corridor is proposed to extend east along US 15-501 to Duke University and downtown Durham before ending at Alston Avenue. A final decision on the alternative corridor alignments near Meadowmont is expected within the next 18 months.

2035 daily ridership between Chapel Hill and Durham is estimated between 12,000 and 14,000, with an anticipated construction cost of about $1.4 billion. Funding for the light rail line is expected to be a combination of federal, State and local funds. Local funding is proposed to be provided from both vehicle registration fees and a possible half-cent increase in the Orange County sales tax.

It is expected that development around the proposed light rail stations will include a mix of housing, retail and office uses. This development will be designed to create compact neighborhoods and work centers all within walking distance of the light rail station. More information about the proposed light rail corridors can be found at

In addition to the proposed light rail corridor Chapel Hill has already begun planning for higher capacity transit along several key transportation corridors. Bus rapid transit is designed to upgrade fixed route bus transit in areas of high ridership and between activity centers. The Town has identified Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, US 15-501/Fordham Blvd and NC54 as critical transportation corridors and could support bus rapid transit. Bus rapid transit technology includes a range of enhancements along specific corridors designed to improve operating efficiency, ranging from coordination of signal timing with buses to exclusive bus lanes. Bus rapid transit systems typically include the use of higher capacity vehicles, such as articulated buses, real time information systems for transit riders and fewer stop locations. These bus rapid transit corridors identified by Chapel Hill include opportunities for redevelopment designed to reduce impacts on the transportation network by encouraging greater use of public transit, bicycling and walking.

The integration of both light rail and bus rapid transit with changes in the intensity and design of future development could provide Chapel Hill with the ability to accommodate future growth and improve its tax base while improving mobility with the Town and expanding connections to the Triangle Region.

David Bonk began work with Chapel Hill in 1985 as the Town’s transportation planner. He represented the Town in the development of regional transportation plans, provided planning for the Chapel Hill Transit system and participated with other Town staff in the preparation of the Chapel Hill 1988 and 2000 Comprehensive Plans and subsequent small area planning. In 2005 he was appointed long range and transportation planning manager, responsible for coordinating long range land use planning with ongoing regional and local transportation planning. Recent projects have included the 2008 Northern Area Task Force and 2009 Rogers Road Small Area Plans and the 2009 Long Range Transit Plan. Bonk has undergraduate degrees in political science and history and a master’s of public administration from Western Illinois University.

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