LYNX Blue Line Extension
|LYNX Northeast Corridor|
|System||LYNX Rapid Transit Services|
|Locale||Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina|
|Termini||9th Street (south)
University of North Carolina at Charlotte (north)
|Owner||Charlotte Area Transit System|
|Operator(s)||Charlotte Area Transit System|
|Rolling stock||Siemens Avanto S70|
|Line length||9.7 miles (15.6 km)|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
The Northeast Corridor or Blue Line Extension is a light rail extension for the LYNX Blue Line and being built from the fall of 2013. It would connect directly with the existing Blue Line at the 7th Street station in Uptown Charlotte. The line will serve University City and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. It is proposed to follow a northeast path along the existing Norfolk Southern right-of-way along both North Davidson Street and North Tryon Street. It is currently planned to be 9.7 miles (17.7 km) in length with 11 stations. The extension will be tested in December 2016, and is scheduled to open by August 2017.
The prospect of developing a light rail line between UNC Charlotte and Uptown via Newell was initially evaluated in 1985. The route was proposed for the then Southern Railway tracks, parallel to both North Tryon Street and Old Concord Road, and slated for completion at some point between 1995-2000. After years of discussion and delays, in June 2006 the proposed route was chosen.
The selected route would follow the existing Norfolk Southern right-of-way from Uptown through approximately Sugar Creek Road where it would parallel North Tryon Street to its terminus on the southern side of Interstate 485. Along the Norfolk Southern ROW, the light rail tracks would parallel existing freight lines and Amtrak passenger rail service. The routing also includes a station on the campus of UNCC. The decision to not cross I-485 in order to extend the line to Salome Church Road was made based on an estimated $30 million cost for a bridge and a projected daily ridership to the station of only 200 passengers. Recent estimates for construction of the line have ranged from $928 million to $1.12 billion. This includes an increase in grade separations from earlier estimates and 300' long platforms to accommodate additional train cars.
By November 2007, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) gave approval to begin the preliminary engineering work for the corridor, and in January 2008 the Charlotte City Council approved funding for this work to commence by March 2008. The $30 million engineering study was expected to be complete by 2010, at which time the FTA would determine if federal funding was available for half of the projects construction.
On December 12, 2011, the FTA issued a record of decision for the line, confirming that the preliminary design passed the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, and allowing final design work to begin. On the same day, an $18 million federal grant for the project was approved.
On April 19, 2012, the N.C. Department of Transportation committed to paying for 25 percent ($290 m.) of the extension's estimated $1.16 b. final cost. Construction was set to begin in 2013. On May 16, the North Carolina Railroad Company, CATS and Norfolk Southern signed lease, construction and operating agreements for the Lynx Blue Line Extension along the North Carolina Railroad Corridor.
In July, the FTA gave its approval for CATS to enter the Final Design stage for the Blue Line Extension, allowing the project to be developed from the 65-100 percent design level and allowing complete preparation of final construction plans, right-of-way acquisition, construction cost estimates, bid documents and utility relocation. CATS could now plan to enter into a full funding grant agreement (FFGA) with the FTA, at which stage the FTA would commit to 50 percent funding for the project.
On October 16, CATS signed the FFGA with the FTA. The FTA was made responsible for $580m of the projected $1.16b cost. NCDOT would spend $299m and CATS' share was $281m.
In May 2013, some property owners living along the proposed route expressed concerns about inadequate compensation for property the city will need to acquire for building the line.
On July 18, 2013, the official groundbreaking took place near the 9th Street Station; at the ceremony were the mayor of Charlotte Patsy Kinsey, UNCC chancellor Philip Dubois, federal transit administrator Peter Rogoff and N.C. Governor Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte and an initial supporter of the LYNX project.
By the end of 2013, work began to shift underground utilities, build retaining walls and initiate grading and drainage work. By January 2014, final design work for the extension was over 95 percent complete, at a cost of nearly $80 million from a total budget of $187 million; the city had also acquired 261 of the 312 properties needed to construct the line for a cost of $69.7 million out of a total budget of $121.4 million. The remaining 51 properties were to be acquired by the end of January.
Major construction was scheduled to begin from March 2014. Engineering challenges will include burying 36th St. in NoDa and elevating the railway line in that area to make the intersection safer. The city decided to divide the extension into three segments to be divided between different contractors. On January 27, the city awarded a civil construction contract to a joint venture of Balfour Beatty Infastructure and Blythe Development Co., who will be paid $108 million to work on the first segment of the light-rail extension, from Uptown Charlotte to Old Concord Road. The joint venture was formed to work on improving drainage, building bridges, maintaining retaining walls, controlling traffic, and moving water and sewer mains. CATS chief executive Carolyn Flowers said the amount is $9 million less than the city had budgeted.
A separate contract was made for the line from Old Concord Road to UNC Charlotte; the $119 million contract was awarded to Lane Construction on April 14. A separate contract to lay rails and install the power stations and overhead catenary wires was awarded to Balfour Beatty the same month for $130.8 million. The contracts have a total budget of $558 million. After construction bids were lower than anticipated, CATS completed some previously eliminated parts of the project that were cut in the planning stages, including additional ticket vending machines, a parking deck at the Sugar Creek Station and a fifth level to the J.W. Clay Boulevard Station parking deck; CATS also intended to request additional enhancements, including expansion of the North Yard maintenance facility and construction of a pedestrian bridge at the Sugar Creek Station. The existing Lynx Blue Line was designed for two-car trains only, since the extension will utilize three-car trains, CATS intended to expand some stations on the line to allow for them.
By late 2014, only 20 percent of the $228 million in the project contingency fund had been used. CATS reported encountering difficulties with shifting underground utilities, but said the project remained on schedule. In the uptown area, initial grading of land had begun, as well as removal of overhead electrical wires originally built for a trolley in the 1990s. In the second phase of the project, from uptown to Old Concord Road, the city had commenced building retaining walls and laying the foundation for the Old Concord Road station. Several temporary street closures were necessitated, including 16th Street (to reopen in February 2015) and 36th Street in NoDa, to be closed until 2017. CATS was also collaborating with the N.C. Department of Transportation to replace the West Mallard Creek Church Road bridge over North Tryon Street; much of the utility relocation still remained to be completed in this area of the project.
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