Charlotte’s new east-west light rail is still far from complete, but a city council committee on Monday took a closer look at some of the numbers dictating how, when and where the railway line is likely to be built.
From Gaston County, past the airport, along the northern end of the upper town, then south-east along Independence Boulevard, then Monroe Road to Union County, the Silver Line of 29 miles would be the largest part of Charlotte’s $ 13.5 billion transit plan.
Transit system planners said on Monday that the part of the Silver Line through Mecklenburg County would cost around $ 8.1 billion. They recommend that the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) build the Silver Line in two phases:
- Phase A would take place southeast of downtown, primarily along Independence Boulevard and Monroe Road, and would open in 2036. Phase A would cost $ 5.1 billion.
- Phase B would travel west to the airport and open in 2039. It would cost $ 3 billion.
The cost of the east and west rail line to other counties was not included in this estimate.
Planners also said they were fine-tuning the route and location of Silver Line stations in several locations, to account for possible future developments and to reflect the wishes of neighborhoods wanting better light rail access.
Charlotte is making great strides in planning the Silver Line. But that hasn’t yet solved the thorny issue of how to pay for it. The most likely sources of money appear to be an increase in local sales taxes combined with federal and possibly state cash, but details remain unclear.
Additional details on traffic, costs
Planners estimate that the 15-mile southeast portion of the streetcar would carry an average of 19,000 passengers per day by 2050. The western segment, about half the length, would carry about 10,000 passengers per day by then.
The higher cost and longer schedule are increases over last year. The Charlotte Moves task force initially estimated the project would cost $ 6.2 billion and could open in 2030.
Building the Silver Line in phases is necessary to minimize disruption and account for the high price tag, planners said.
Also on Monday, the city council’s transportation, planning and environment committee heard five recommended changes to train routes and station locations:
1. Move the station to Wilkinson Boulevard
Planners recommended moving a station from Suttle Avenue to Berryhill Road, near the intersection of Wilkinson and Morehead Street. They said the change would provide better pedestrian access to a train station, away from a section of Wilkinson that looks like a freeway, and also provide “better redevelopment opportunities,” said Andy Mock, CATS planner.
2. Add a station to Summit Avenue
After receiving feedback from the Wilmore neighborhood, planners are resurrecting plans for a light rail stop on Summit Avenue, near the intersection of the John Belk Freeway and I-77. This also happens to be by Charlotte Pipe & Foundry, which is in the process of zoning and is considered a possible site for a new Carolina Panthers stadium.
The station could “potentially serve Pipe & Foundry developments,” Mock said.
3. Add a station in First Ward
Planners suggest adding a stop along 11th Street between Caldwell and Davidson Streets in the First Uptown District. It would be only two or three blocks from another 11th Street station, causing some council members to question whether any planned stations are too close to each other.
“I don’t know how we determine where the balance is that we want to strike between more stations by bringing things two or three blocks away from someone walking relative to another stop, and each of those stops add time to the journey, ”said board member Larken Egleston.
CATS CEO John Lewis responded that stations in suburban areas should be farther apart, but in urban areas they should be closer to each other “to provide convenient access to more. of people ”.
4. Change route near the BOplex
The planners suggest moving the route through Bojangles Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium to avoid crossing the Golden Green Hotel.
This move would save money by not having to acquire and demolish a large hotel and, Mock added, “There are some very interesting proposals to rethink the use of this hotel to include affordable housing and other training opportunities for the workforce. (He didn’t develop.)
5. Change route along Monroe Road in Matthews
Originally, the light rail line was to descend in the middle of Monroe Road, near the intersection with Sardis Road North. Now, however, planners recommend that the line run behind several businesses in the western part of Monroe Road, which they believe will be cheaper as they won’t have to acquire 30-35 businesses and re-route service lines. public.
Economic impact of bypassing downtown
In a separate presentation, a city consultant offered more justification for the Silver Line to run along 11th Street, north of downtown, rather than tunneling under Trade Street. Some public transport advocates favored the latter option, which they said would attract more passengers and facilitate the transfer to the blue line.
But planners favor the 11th Street layout because it offers more opportunities for redevelopment – a key part of the plan.
Jane Lim-Yap, a consultant advising the city, said putting the line in place along 11th Street would open up 30 more acres of land currently underutilized than digging a tunnel under Trade Street. She also said the tunneling under Trade Street would be more disruptive, with more commercial impacts and a grid of streets that would be interrupted by tunnel entrances and exits spanning 800 feet, or two blocks. each.
The 11th Street alignment would also generate between $ 20 million and $ 35 million in annual tax revenue after the construction of the Silver Line, Lim-Yap said. That’s more than the $ 15-20 million in additional annual property taxes that would be generated along Trade Street.
Council member Ed Driggs cautioned against the perception that route decisions would be made purely to maximize property tax revenue for the city.
“I often deal with citizens who suspect that our zoning process and our planning process is a revenue exercise,” said Driggs, who also pointed out that much of the redevelopment is likely to happen anyway. way. “You don’t have a zero alternative here.”
The tunnel option is “off the table” at this point, Driggs said.
The Metropolitan Transit Commission, a county-wide governing body of CATS, is expected to approve the final alignment in the coming months.
Ely Portillo is Deputy Director at UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. Tony Mecia is editor-in-chief of The Charlotte Ledger.