The US Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has approved Durham and Orange counties' light-rail project to advance into the final design or engineering phase.

Announced by regional transport operator GoTriangle, the approval enables the $2.47bn project to remain eligible for a $1bn federal government grant.

GoTriangle board member and Durham County commissioner Ellen Reckhow said: “This is great news for the people of Durham and Orange counties.

"The light rail will give our communities an option?for a congestion-free commute with predictable travel times and offer direct connections."

“The light rail will give our communities an option?for a congestion-free commute with predictable travel times and offer direct connections to three hospitals, three major universities and job centres.

“It also will help create thousands of new jobs for our region.”

Under its evaluation, the FTA issued favourable ratings to the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit (D-O LRT) project in three areas, namely local financial commitment, project justification and engineering readiness.?

The federal government is expected to fund 50% of the project, while the remainder is to be financed through a combination of existing dedicated local transit and state funds, as well as other private contributions.?

Last December, the FTA approved the addition of a light-rail station at North Carolina Central University.

It also amended its Record of Decision to approve the 17.7-mile light-rail line that will comprise 18 stations ranging from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to NCCU in Durham.

GoTriangle noted that, along with its partners in Durham and Orange counties, it will continue to work on the D-O LRT project to procure the federal funding by 2020.?

Project construction is expected to start in 2020 and commence operations from 2028.