By Beth Emerson
The Durham Belt Line is a 1.7-mile stretch of an inactive Norfolk & Southern railroad corridor that forms a partial loop around downtown Durham (see map below).With the potential to connect pedestrians and cyclists from North Durham to the Ellerbe Creek Trail network and to Downtown, converting it into a trail has been envisioned for more than 20 years.
In August 2018, Durham City Council adopted a Master Plan for the Belt Line–including trail design and eventual construction, and the City purchased the corridor shortly after. This past March, City Council approved a contract for initial design and public outreach. City Council supported the project, a no-fee outdoor recreation amenity and transportation corridor, but encourages staff and Council to consider and address implications for affordable housing and housing costs along the corridor.
As a large public project that touches so many parts of the City, it is a complicated process. According to Nia Rodgers, Sr Construction Manager for the City’s General Services Dept., General Services and Neighborhood Improvement Services will use a public engagement process or “Equitable Engagement Plan” to seek input on trailheads, public art, and community stories. They will reach out to neighbors in the project’s vicinity, including those residents and historically underrepresented communities that are likely to be impacted by the project, such as renters and low income housing residents, communities of color, and those with limited English proficiency.
The project has substantial grant funding, but not enough for completion. Preliminary design work and outreach will seek additional public City and grant funds. A grant application last year was not successful, but staff plan to reapply this year in an effort to close the gap. For more information, including notices about eventual opportunities for public involvement see the Belt Line web page at https://durhamnc.gov/3762/Durham-Belt-Line-2018