Lynx Rapid Transit Services
|Locale||Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina|
|Transit type||Light Rail (streetcar and bus rapid transit lines planned)|
|Number of lines||1 (1 streetcar line and 1 light rail line under construction)|
|Number of stations||15|
|Daily ridership||16,500 (Q2 2014)|
|Website||CATS Rapid Transit Planning|
|Began operation||November 24, 2007|
|Operator(s)||Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS)|
|System length||9.6 mi (15.45 km)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)|
|Electrification||Overhead lines, 750 V DC|
Lynx Rapid Transit Services (styled corporately as LYNX Rapid Transit Services) currently comprises a 9.6-mile (15.45 km) light rail line serviced by the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. It commenced service on November 24, 2007, and runs through Uptown and South End, before paralleling South Boulevard to its southern terminus just north of Interstate 485 at the Pineville city limits. There are 15 stations in the system, which carries an average of over 16,500 passenger trips every day. Despite the name, Lynx is not a rapid transit service.
A Charlotte light rail system was proposed in the mid-1980s, with Mecklenburg voters approving a one-half cent sales tax to finance its construction in 1998. The construction of Lynx resulted in controversy regarding its costs and benefits with an unsuccessful 2007 referendum to repeal the transit tax. Future expansion includes plans for light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit along the five corridors in the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan adopted in 2006 by Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). Build-out of the entire system is estimated to be completed by 2034.
- 1 History
- 2 Ridership
- 3 Operations
- 4 Controversies
- 5 Rolling stock
- 6 Fares
- 7 Stations
- 8 Future expansion
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
By the mid-1980s, city and county planners were evaluating strategies to both control and focus the region's growing population and expanding development. One strategy which was considered was the construction of a light rail to encourage new businesses and housing along its corridor. In 1984, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission made its first recommendation for a light rail line connecting Uptown Charlotte with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) as part of the community's 2005 Vision Plan. In response to this recommendation, mayor Harvey Gantt sought $50,000 from the city council for a feasibility study, only to drop the request due to a lack of council support.
After remaining dormant for nearly three years, the light rail debate once again emerged as a light rail/mass transit task force was established by then-mayor Sue Myrick in early 1988. The task force received $185,000 from a combination of local, state and federal funds for the initial study of a system consisting of three lines radiating out from Uptown Charlotte. One line was to connect with the UNCC to the northeast; a second was to connect to Pineville, with future expansion envisioned to both Fort Mill and Rock Hill to the south; and a third was to connect with Matthews, with future expansion anticipated to Monroe to the southeast.
By September 1988, the result of the initial study carried out by Barton-Aschman Associates was a 77-mile (123.9 km) system encompassing a loop around Uptown Charlotte and eight separate corridors radiating out from the city center, with a total cost of $467 million. The corridors envisioned included a route along Albemarle Road to the east, connecting with both SouthPark and Matthews to the southeast, Pineville to the south, the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport to the west, UNCC to the northeast, along Brookshire Boulevard to the northwest, and Davidson to the north. The cost of the plan was significantly more than the $101 million in bonds issued by city council which was to be used to initiate the project. The cost factor, combined with inability to obtain the necessary right-of-way for the lines, led to the project's deferral.
In March 1990, CATS allotted only $14 million for light rail development for the duration of the decade. Again, construction costs were cited in postponing development of the system. Additionally, the Charlotte proposal at the time did not anticipate sufficient ridership of the system to acquire Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant money to develop the system. The $14 million would be used for both the purchasing of abandoned right-of-way as it became available for future light rail development as well as monies for studying a proposed line connecting the Wilgrove area in east Mecklenburg County with Tyvola Road south of Uptown Charlotte. After nearly fifteen years of debate, in 1998 Mecklenburg County voters approved a one-half cent sales tax to be utilized in the implementation of the 2025 Integrated Transit/Land-Use Plan, which included development of a light rail network. Once the tax was approved, the ability for Charlotte to have matching funds for FTA grants became a reality in financing construction, and planning for the South Corridor to Pineville commenced.
Corridor planning and construction
Although light rail had been envisioned connecting Charlotte to Rock Hill in previous years, official planning for the corridor, later to become the Blue Line, did not commence until 1999. The line was to have initially been a 13.5-mile (21.73 km) route serving as a connection between Uptown Charlotte and Pineville along the Norfolk Southern rail line paralleling South Boulevard at a cost of $225 million. In February 2000, the Metropolitan Transit Commission unanimously approved the corridor for the region's first light rail line, and by April, $8.2 million was allocated for the initial purchase of materials for its construction. In September Parsons Transportation Group was hired by CATS to complete engineering and environmental studies for the corridor, and at this time costs estimates for the completed line increased to $331 million.
The overall costs for completing the line escalated to $371 million by July 2002 as a result of increasing land and construction costs. Additionally, the southern terminus for the line was moved from downtown Pineville approximately 1.5 miles (2.41 km) to the north. The station was eliminated after Mayor George Fowler, and the Pineville Town Council voted to not receive the line. Also, low projected ridership figures indicated its construction was not warranted at the time. By March 2004, estimates of costs had increased to $398.7 million and were again revised to $427 million in January 2005. The increased estimates were again attributed to rising costs of land and construction. After numerous delays caused by increasing cost estimates, the official groundbreaking for the line occurred on February 26, 2005.
With construction in progress for a year, in February 2006 CATS unveiled "Lynx" as the official name of its light rail network. Lynx was selected from a list of over 250 possibilities including City Lynx and Xcel, and was chosen so as to adhere to the big cat theme in the names of the local professional sports teams (the Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Bobcats), and also since it was homophonous with "links" (suggesting connectivity). By September 2006, estimated completion costs for the Blue Line once again were increased. This time the increase was attributed to faulty planning and design of the line from consultants hired by CATS to design the line, Parsons Transportation Group. Revised estimates by early 2007 called for the project to be completed at a final cost of $462.7 million, more than double the original estimate of $227 million.
Commencement of service
Nearly three years after construction commenced, the Lynx Blue Line opened for passenger service on November 24, 2007. On its opening weekend of November 24–25, 2007 all trips were free, resulting in 24,000 rider trips in the first four hours and 60,000 trips in the first day. This was well above maximum rated capacity for Lynx service. Revenue service commenced with the first train on November 26, 2007. Lynx is the first major rapid rail service of any kind in North Carolina, and serves as a revival of rail transit within the city since the original streetcar network was discontinued in 1938 in favor of motorized bus transit.
Prior to the opening of the line in November 2007, CATS projected ridership for the completed Blue Line to be 9,100 on an average weekday in its first year of operation, gradually increasing to 18,100 by 2025. In its first few months of operation, the Blue Line saw an average daily weekday ridership of 8,700 passengers. By the end of the first quarter of 2008, weekday ridership had increased to 18,600, double first-year projections and ahead of the 2025 projections. In March 2008, the single light rail line accounted for 19.5% of total system ridership – 402,600 of the 2,061,700 monthly passenger-trips of all lines including bus, dial-a-ride, and vanpool. Daily ridership continued to climb through the fall of 2008 due to increasing gasoline prices, peaking at 22,300 in the third quarter.
By summer 2009, a CATS survey indicated that 72 percent of Lynx riders did not use public transportation prior to its completion. On December 11, 2009, Lynx celebrated its 10 millionth passenger trip since its opening in November 2007.[dead link] For 2009, Lynx saw a decrease in daily ridership from 19,700 to 19,500 passengers per day. As of the second quarter of 2014, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has Lynx daily ridership at 16,500, making Lynx the fourth-largest light rail system in the Southern United States by ridership, and the 24th largest light rail system in the United States in terms of ridership.
Lynx operates seven days a week. It runs from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 6:15 a.m. to midnight Sunday. On weekdays, frequencies range from 10 minutes during rush hour periods to 20 minutes at night, with weekend daytime service running every 15 minutes on Saturdays and 20 minutes on Sundays, with night service 20–30 minutes.
Viability and transit tax
With construction under way, development of light rail and cost overruns associated with it became a major issue between incumbent Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory and Democratic opponent Craig Madans in the 2005 mayoral race. In 2006, following a report by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the project was cited as inefficient use of federal taxpayer dollars, and opponents claimed most of the $8.9 billion slated for transit out of a total of $12.7 billion for all transportation projects in the Charlotte Region's Long Range Plan was attributed to rail. In response to these concerns, a coalition labeling itself Stop the Train launched a petition drive to put a repeal of the 1998 transit tax on the November 2007 ballot, citing cost-overruns and concerns over CATS management. Mecklenburg County elected officials announced in June 2007 the required number of signatures had been gathered and validated, guaranteeing a referendum on the transit tax.
According to David Hartgen, professor emeritus of Transportation Policy Studies at UNCC, transit would provide a viable means of transportation for just 2–3% of the Charlotte region's travel needs, and 1% of regional travel. This is a similar proportion to most arterial road segments Road transportation advocate Wendell Cox also cited similar concerns of a low cost/benefit ratio of both the south corridor line and other urban rail projects proposed for Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Additionally, Sam Staley, Director of Urban and Land Use Policy for the Reason Foundation, stated Lynx struggled to capture riders in a sprawling city like Charlotte, where the majority of trips are not made to the central city. This assertion has been proven to be incorrect by the current ridership figures. A contrary report on the impact of light rail in Sacramento, Baltimore, and St. Louis, indicated that light rail systems had resulted in traffic congestion growing more slowly than before the system was built(from 2.8% annual congestion growth to 1.5%, from 4.5% to 2.2%, and to 0.89% from 0.86% respectively).[dead link] Further pro-rail arguments emphasize that rail lines were built to areas before development takes place, as is done with superhighway construction. When ignoring the usable life of improvements the construction of roads is less costly than building light rail or subways, excluding land costs, but may contribute to increased sprawl.
A campaign to retain the transit tax garnered more than $650,000, with at least one third coming from local corporations including Duke Energy, Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), Bank of America, McDonald Transit Associates, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Siemens. An additional twenty major businesses contributed, all of whom profit from CATS operations according to former city council member Don Reid. The group working to repeal the transit tax saw far less support (under $13,000) mostly from individuals. Mecklenburg County voters overwhelmingly rejected the repeal of the tax, 70 percent to 30 percent, on November 6, 2007.
Extent of development generated
In the months following opening, the line was averaging 80% over initial ridership projections, leading Light Rail Now to proclaim the line a "huge success". Jim Puckett, former Mecklenburg County Commissioner and a leader of the campaign to repeal the transit tax, said in the Charlotte Observer: "I have to admit, they are doing better than I expected... Our concern was whether we would have a white elephant, and it doesn't seem we do."
In August 2008, the John Locke Foundation's Carolina Journal reported that taxpayers were subsidizing more than 90% of a rider's trip on what the Journal calls "a lightly used line," and that low ridership estimates did not take into account increasing gasoline costs resulting in higher transit ridership. The analysis of subsidies was flawed by the report's reliance on a 7% discount rate for capital expenditures on the project, since no money was borrowed for the project (at the local and state level) no interest is paid on its capital costs, thus the report overstated costs by a substantial margin. Criticisms of transit on the grounds of subsidies also overlook the fact that all other modes of transportation are subsidized by non-user fees. For example, the Pew Charitable Trust found that highway construction and maintenance requires a 49% subsidy in 2007. UNCC transportation studies professor David Hartgen states that the line does not displace car traffic significantly as about half the ridership consists of prior bus riders. Also, Hartgen dismisses a city report's claims concerning increased land use as a result, stating: "In short, the big winners are about 4,000 prior bus riders, 4,000 commuters living close to the line, and 400 South Carolina drivers." Hartgen's claims of limited benefits are contradicted by the March 2011 report from the Center for Transit Oriented Development which found that the Blue Line generated nearly 10,000,000 square feet (930,000 m2) of new commercial and residential development along its route, more than comparable lines in Denver and Minneapolis.
Center City Corridor extension
In early 2012, Mayor Anthony Foxx proposed a 2.5-mile (4.02 km), $119 m. extension to the planned Center City Corridor streetcar line, which would have taken the line to Johnson C. Smith University. The proposal was turned down by a majority of the city council; on June 30, Foxx vetoed a revised city budget by the council which would have eliminated the extension. On October 30, further discussion failed to reach any consensus on how best to pay for an extension. Options considered included: charging fares for the streetcar (the city had planned for the streetcar to be free), increasing the special property tax rate charged to property owners inside Interstate 277, soliciting donations from businesses and institutions along the line, such as Johnson & Wales University or using a portion of new property taxes created from development along the line. Other options to raise funds, which would have required approval from the state, included increasing the rental car tax, hotel/motel tax or prepared food and beverage tax, levying a special fee on parking spaces or lobbying for a higher vehicle registration fee.
Many city council members stated they did not favor an increase in property taxes as a result of the streetcar extension. In an effort to end the continuing deadlock, on December 10 Foxx proposed two alternative budgets, the smaller of which would eliminate the streetcar extension; however, on December 17 the city council voted to postpone all budget decisions until early 2013. At a meeting in Raleigh on January 31, 2013, Pat McCrory, the newly elected Governor of North Carolina and former mayor of Charlotte, told Charlotte's city attorney and its deputy city manager that state funding for the Blue Line Extension could be at risk if Charlotte persisted with plans to build an extension to the streetcar line. On April 10, 2013, the decision was made to at least temporarily drop the streetcar extension from the budget; however, Carlee said he hoped to have a separate streetcar plan ready to vote on by June 2013.
On May 13, Carlee said the $126 million extension, renamed the CityLynx Gold Line, could be funded without a property tax increase if the city could receive a federal grant for half the estimated cost, possibly through the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts Program. The remaining $63 million could be covered with surplus funds from other city programs. After Carlee's announcement, it appeared likely plans for the extension could finally move forward. City council members voted to send the proposal to the Metropolitan Transit Commission on May 22, and with their approval, take a vote on May 28.
On May 28, the Charlotte city council voted 7-4 to build the streetcar extension, setting aside $63 million for the purpose.
Allegations of corruption
In March 2014, Mayor Patrick Cannon was arrested by the FBI on corruption charges. According to the affidavit, he agreed to help undercover agents posing as developers to "time purchases of real property on the Gold Line," and also discussed development opportunities along the Blue Line Extension. He allegedly boasted of having political clout in Washington, which he said he would use to get further funding for the Gold Line.
Further allegations filed in the federal corruption probe revealed Cannon had accepted payments from a local strip club owner, David Baucom, from at least 2009; Baucom's business lay in the path of the light-rail extension and was slated for demolition as a result. Both Baucom and Cannon were members of the city Hospitality and Tourism Board. According to the federal bill of information outlining the charges against Cannon, Cannon, then a city councilman, used his position to influence Charlotte zoning, planning and transportation officials to allow the club to be rebuilt on the remaining property after the original building had been demolished and the required land for the extension appropriated. In January 2013, Baucom's club received a zoning variance to allow its continued operation at the same site, as a church and a residential area were both within 1000 feet of the adult establishment. Cannon had also consulted about Baucom with the councilman for Baucom's district, Michael Barnes, who subsequently became mayor pro tem of Charlotte. While Barnes said he had contacted the CATS chief executive on Baucom's behalf to see if his business could remain open for longer, the request for an extension had been turned down, as the club had already received extensions to remain open. Barnes said he had "made an inquiry just as I would for any citizen," and apart from a $500 campaign contribution from Baucom in October 2012, had had no other contacts with him.
Baucom said he didn't know Cannon well and denied requesting him for help with permits; he declined comment on the federal allegations and has neither been charged nor named in court documents. On June 3, 2014, Cannon pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud, a charge commonly used when a public official takes kickbacks or bribes. The charge referenced a $2,000 bribe Cannon had received from Baucom in January 2013, according to prosecutors. After learning about the new federal allegations relating to Cannon and the light-rail extension, several business owners who had also been forced to give up property along the path of the extension said they were surprised. Some expressed frustration with disruption from construction and with compensation for their properties; they also said the corruption probe deepened their doubts about the fairness of the construction process. Other business owners felt the temporary disruptions would be worth it, as the new light-rail line would improve their business.
In a statement issued after the new allegations were revealed, Ryan Daniels, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the corruption probe would not affect federal funding for the light-rail extension. "Decisions to fund major transit projects are part of a multiyear, multistep process. Funding decisions are based solely on the merits of the project, which in this case, were determined well before these allegations arose.”
In January 2004, CATS began the process of accepting bids for construction of the system's vehicles. Original estimates for the vehicles was $3.5 million per car with the firms Bombardier, Siemens and Kinki Sharyo bidding for the final contract. The $52 million contract for 16 S70 Avanto vehicles was awarded to Siemens on February 25, 2004. The original order was delivered between 2006 and 2007, and these cars are numbered 101–116. Car 101 arrived via flatbed truck on Friday, June 23, 2006, from the Siemens facility in Florin, California. Testing of the vehicles began in August 2006 along a 1.3-mile (2.1 km) stretch of track between Tremont Avenue and the light rail maintenance facility off South Boulevard. During the testing phase, each car logged 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to test the acceleration, braking and overall performance for each vehicle. With an option in place to purchase up to an additional 25 vehicles, and better than expected ridership, in May 2008 CATS announced the purchase of four additional Avanto vehicles to add capacity to the existing 16 vehicles in operation. The trams cost $3.8 million each and were delivered by Siemens between January–March 2010.
Lynx's fleet initially consisted of sixteen, 91.3-foot (27.828 m), 97,470-pound (44,211.6 kg) Siemens-built S70 Avanto vehicles, similar to those in operation for the METRORail in Houston, Texas. Each vehicle contains 68 seats and has a maximum capacity of 236 passengers complete with four bike racks. Each car has a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour (105 km/h), but top speed is restricted to 55 miles per hour (89 km/h). Power comes from a 750-volt overhead wire.
In January 2014, CATS announced it would buy 22 new Siemens S70 light-rail vehicles for the Blue Line Extension at a cost of $96.2 million. Four of those were scheduled to be delivered to CATS in November. This will allow CATS to have more three-car trains on the existing Blue Line.
In addition to the modern light rail vehicles, two vintage trolleys operate along the route between the 7th Street and East/West stations as the Charlotte Trolley. Since it operated along the same tracks, trolley service was temporarily halted on February 5, 2006, when construction began on the Lynx system. Scheduled to reopen in late 2006, in November 2006 CATS determined it would be unfeasible to have trolley service while the corridor still under construction. Thus trolley service resumed on April 20, 2008, and the heritage streetcars operate on weekends only in tandem with the modern light rail vehicles.
When not in use, the vehicles are stored at the South Boulevard Light Rail Facility, located along South Boulevard, between the New Bern and Scaleybark stations in the Sedgefield neighborhood. The facility is approximately 92,000 square feet (8,547.1 m2), and houses the Lynx rail maintenance staff, operations staff and the Rail Operations Control Center. Officially dedicated on June 23, 2007, the facility contains 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of track and 5,200 ties.
Tickets are purchased on the platform of all stations from self-serve ticket vending machines that accept cash, coins, debit, and credit cards. Transfers from buses, weekly and monthly passes are also accepted. Fares, which are equal to those of the existing bus network, are as follows: $2.20 for a one-way trip, $4.40 for a round-trip ticket, $6.60 for a one-day pass with unlimited rides, $22 for a weekly pass, and $88 ($44 for seniors and ADA) for a monthly pass.
LYNX's fare system is organized on the proof-of-payment system as there are no turnstiles at the entrances to train platforms. Instead, fares are enforced by random sweeps through trains and occasional checks for fares as passengers enter and leave the train by CATS Fare Inspectors. If a passenger is caught without evidence of proper fare, a citation of $50 is issued in addition to potentially facing a Class 3 misdemeanor charge. CATS estimates between 4 and 5 percent of total fare revenue is lost from passengers who ride without paying.
Following an initial "grace period" between its November 2007 opening and February 2008, CATS took more action with regards to issuing citations for fare jumpers. This was the case as many of the ticket vending machines were not working properly at all stations. As part of LYNX's initial "fare enforcement blitz" during the first week of February 2008, 41 citations were issued with one arrest in the first day of enhanced enforcement. Due to its success, CATS officials announced that future "blitzes" would target individual stations and not be publicized. As of June 2010, CATS estimates 0.5 percent of daily riders are fare jumpers at a daily loss of $300 in revenue.
The 9.6-mile (15.45 km) Blue Line provides service to fifteen stations located within the Charlotte city limits. The stations are all open-air structures featuring passenger canopies for protection from adverse weather conditions. Although originally to have been 300 feet (91 m) long, all platforms were reduced to 200 feet (61 m) in length in order to save $6 million in construction costs. The overall design of the stations takes their inspiration from the many oak trees present throughout the city, and are either side or island platformed. All stations between I-485/South Boulevard and Scaleybark have parking available adjacent to the station, with the I-485/South Boulevard station having the line's lone parking garage. Additionally, as part of the budget for the Lynx system, a percentage of the overall cost was reserved for both the purchase and display of public art along the route. Through the utilization of approximately one percent of the overall design and construction budget, 13 artists were selected to design displays for each of the Blue Line's fifteen stations.
At present, the only completed portion of the LYNX network is the Blue Line. Future expansion includes plans for light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit along the corridors in the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan adopted in 2006 by Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). Although build-out of the entire system is estimated for completion by 2034, by 2013, the Charlotte Area Transit System stated it would likely be unable to fund future transit projects apart from the Blue Line Extension, scheduled to begin construction in early 2014.
On May 6, 2013, a 30-member transit funding task force released a draft report in which they estimated it would cost $3.3 billion to build the remaining transit corridors, and $1.7 billion to operate and maintain the lines through 2024. To fund the build-out by sales taxes alone would require a 0.78 cent increase in the sales tax, which would need to be approved by the state General Assembly. The committee recommended any sales tax increase be limited to 0.5 cent and other methods used to raise funds; some suggested methods included:
- Using the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TFIA) to quickly begin construction. TFIA loans could pay for 33 percent of the streetcar project and 30 percent of the rapid transit line along Independence Boulevard. It could allow CATS to begin collecting new property taxes from projects built along the rail line, which could be used to pay off the loans.
- Expanding advertising on train cars and buses, possibly selling naming rights and sponsorships.
- Entering into partnership with a private company to help finance part of the project.
Blue Line Extension/Northeast Corridor
A 9.4-mile (15.1 km) extension of the present 9.6-mile (15.4 km) segment is under construction. Referred to as the "Northeast Corridor", upon completion it will add an additional 11 stations between Uptown and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phillip Dubois has mentioned in the past the name of this segment could be changed to the Green Line in reference to UNC Charlotte's team color.
In July 2010, CATS announced funding was being sought to extend the existing line to 9th Street to serve the UNC Charlotte Uptown Campus. Originally, completion of the extension was estimated to cost $1.12 billion, including an additional 1.2-mile (1.9 km) of track and 2 stations north of UNC Charlotte, ending at I-485 just south of Cabarrus County. However, due to the effects of the late 2000s – early 2010s recession, CATS voted to shorten the line and reduce the cost to $977 million, in order to preserve the 2016 opening date.
The revised Blue Line Extension (not including the current Blue Line to the south) is intended to carry an estimated 24,500 weekday boardings by 2035 and will serve 4 park and ride stations. City transportation and planning officials have predicted the new line could lead to the construction of 10,000 new housing units, as well as the development of nearly four million square feet of offices and 1.3 million square feet of retail space. On July 18, 2013, the official groundbreaking took place near the 9th Street Station, with the mayor of Charlotte Patsy Kinsey, N.C. Governor Pat McCrory and other officials in attendance. The original opening date of 2016 has been moved to 2017.
CityLYNX Gold Line
The Gold Line, formerly the Center City Corridor, is a 9.9-mile (15.9 km) streetcar line under construction. When complete, it will connect the University Park area of west Charlotte with Eastland Mall in east Charlotte by way of Uptown Charlotte, in a primarily east-west direction. Proposals call for its completion by 2023. CATS estimates that the completed route will have an average daily ridership of between 14,200 to 16,700 passengers by 2030.In July 2010, a $25 million Federal Urban Circulator Grant was awarded to the city, allowing construction of the initial 1.5-mile (2.4 km) starter segment between the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown Charlotte and Presbyterian Hospital on Elizabeth Avenue, serving the Elizabeth Avenue Business Corridor and Central Piedmont Community College.
Construction officially began with the groundbreaking for the initial 1.5-mile segment, which took place on December 12, 2012 in front of Presbyterian Hospital, with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Mayor Foxx and other officials in attendance. The initial 1.5 mile (2.41 kilometer) segment (Phase 1) between Time Warner Cable Arena and Presbyterian Hospital is under construction and scheduled to open in June 2015. A further 2.5 mile (4.02 kilometer) segment (Phase 2) from the Charlotte Transportation Center/TWC Arena to French Street, and from Presbyterian Hospital to Hawthorne Lane, is at the development stage; if funded, it is scheduled to open by late 2019. The third and final phase between Hawthorne Lane and Eastland CTC, and from French Street to Rosa Parks CTC, is scheduled for completion by 2023 at a cost of $231 million.
The Silver Line is a proposed 13.5-mile (21.7 km) rapid transit corridor to be operated as bus rapid transit (BRT) (or possibly as a light rail line) between the CPCC Levine Campus in Matthews and the proposed Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for it to be complete through Idlewild Road by 2022, Sardis Road North by 2024 and finally to CPCC Levine by 2026. As aligned, the completed line will have 16 stations and be completed at an estimated cost of $582 million. By October 2012, the MTC had decided in favor of a busway on interior lanes of the highway. In May 2013, however, a 30-member funding task force suggested a light rail line for the proposed route, at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion. So far, no definite plans to begin construction have been made.
The West Corridor is a proposed 6.4-mile (10.3 km) streetcar line, connecting Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in west Charlotte with Uptown Charlotte. Proposals call for completion by 2034. With a completion date over two decades away, in 2008 CATS announced enhanced bus service along this corridor to serve as a placeholder until the line can be constructed. Called Sprinter, the service began in September 2009 and features fewer stops and timing similar to that of the future streetcar route.
Planned, but effectively discontinued
The Red Line is a planned, but effectively discontinued 25-mile (40 km) commuter rail line. To be constructed along existing Norfolk Southern tracks, the line was intended to provide service to the towns of Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson in northern Mecklenburg County. The line was to be serviced by Diesel Multiple Unit trains, and the southern terminus was the proposed Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte. On October 17, 2012, the N.C. DOT, the Red Line Task Force and CATS requested Norfolk Southern to conduct a study of the Red Line concept. As the Red Line would have utilized the NS O-Line between Charlotte and Mooresville, the study intended to determine if and how both freight and passenger services could use the same line while allowing normal freight services to continue. At a meeting of the task force on October 24, it was estimated the study could be initiated by late January 2013 and completed by early 2014, after which further feasibility studies and projections could be made. On June 25, 2014, following the completion and release of the feasibility study, CATS officials said the Red Line would be too costly and complicated to build. Several reasons were provided, including:
- The continued refusal of Norfolk Southern to share its existing trackage with CATS, which would necessitate the construction of a railway line parallel to the NS rails. This would increase the overall project cost by $215 million and cause "multiple disruptions to adjacent communities" as building a parallel rail line would involve construction costs, right-of-way purchases and the complete rebuilding of all road intersections along the proposed line.
- The project's ineligibility for federal funding due to low ridership projections.
- The inability of CATS to fund the Red Line on its own.
Despite the negative assessments of the feasibility study, the Metropolitan Transit Commission, including the Red Line task force, has not taken any official steps to disband the project.
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