Lynx Blue Line

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LYNX Blue Line
A Blue and gray train with black glass stands idle with overhead wires and adjoining building visible.
Overview
Type Light rail
System Charlotte Area Transit System
Locale Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina
Termini 7th Street (north)
I-485 / South Boulevard (south)
Stations 15
Services
  Lynx Blue Line
Daily ridership 16,700 (Q4 2015)[1]
Operation
Opened November 24, 2007[2][3]
Owner Charlotte Area Transit System
Operator(s) Charlotte Area Transit System
Rolling stock Siemens S70
Technical
Line length 9.6 mi (15.45 km)
Number of tracks 2
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification Overhead lines, 750 V DC
Route map

The LYNX Blue Line is a light rail line in Charlotte, North Carolina. It commenced service on November 24, 2007 as the first rail line of the Charlotte Area Transit System.[2] The 9.6 miles (15.4 km) line runs from its northern terminus in Uptown, traversing South End and paralleling South Boulevard to its southern terminus just north of Interstate 485 at the Pineville city limits.[2][4] It is the first major rapid rail service of any kind in North Carolina, and began operating seventy years after a previous Charlotte streetcar system was disbanded in 1938, in favor of motorized bus transit.[4][5] The system officially opened for service on November 24, 2007, and as part of its opening celebration fares were not collected.[3] Regular service with fare collection commenced on November 26, 2007.[3] There are 20 stations in the system, the light rail portion of which carries an average of over 15,800 passenger trips every day.[1]

An extension of the Blue Line to University City and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is under construction, following a northeast path along the existing Norfolk Southern right-of-way along both North Davidson Street and North Tryon Street. The extension is scheduled to open by August 2017.[6][7][8]

History[edit]

LYNX car entering Bland Street station

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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[12] 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.[12]

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.[14] 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.[15][16] 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.[17]

Planning and construction[edit]

A blue and gray train stopped at a side platformed station with station black and gray station canopies visible.
Car #112 at the Carson station

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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] Also, low projected ridership figures indicated its construction was not warranted at the time.[22] By March 2004, estimates of costs had increased to $398.7 million and were again revised to $427 million in January 2005.[23] 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.[24]

As a result of the amount of traffic at a number of the stations along its route, CATS determined that bridges spanning the busiest road crossings would be necessary to prevent further congestion. Beginning on January 4, 2006, the installation of concrete girders ranging in size between 89 to 119 feet (27 to 36 m) commenced at the Tyvola station and was complete by February. Following the construction of these overpasses at Tyvola, similar overpasses were later installed at the Archdale station from April 5 through May 5; at the Woodlawn station from May 10 through May 30; and at the Arrowood station from July 13 through July 23.[25]

With construction in progress for a year, in February 2006 CATS unveiled "Lynx" as the official name of its light rail network.[26] 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 then-Charlotte Bobcats), and also since it was homophonous with "links" (suggesting connectivity).[26] 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.[27]

Commencement of service[edit]

Nearly three years after construction commenced, the Lynx Blue Line opened for passenger service on November 24, 2007.[3] 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.[3] Revenue service commenced with the first train on November 26, 2007.[3] 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.[4][28]

Extension[edit]

LYNX Blue Line Extension
Overview
Termini University of North Carolina at Charlotte (north)
9th Street / existing Blue Line (south)
Stations 11
Services
  Lynx Blue Line
Operation
Opened August 2017[6][7]
Technical
Line length 9.7 miles (15.6 km)
Route map[15]
UNC Charlotte Main
Toby Creek
North Tryon Street
JW Clay Boulevard/UNC Charlotte
McCullough
University City Boulevard
Tom Hunter
Old Concord Road
Sugar Creek
36th Street
25th Street
Parkwood
Interstate 277
9th Street
existing Blue Line

The Blue Line Extension (originally the Northeast Corridor) is an extension of the LYNX Blue Line being built from the fall of 2013. It will 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, following 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 (15.6 km) in length with 11 stations. The extension will be tested in December 2016, and is scheduled to open by August 2017.[6][7][8]

Planning (1985–2011)[edit]

LYNX car at the 7th Street Station

The prospect of developing a light rail line between UNC Charlotte and Uptown via Newell was initially evaluated in 1985.[29] 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.[29] After years of discussion and delays, in June 2006 the proposed route was chosen.[30]

The selected route follows the existing Norfolk Southern right-of-way from Uptown through approximately Sugar Creek Road where it parallels North Tryon Street to its terminus on the southern side of Interstate 485. Along the Norfolk Southern ROW, the light rail tracks parallels existing freight lines and Amtrak passenger rail service. The routing also includes a station on the campus of UNCC.[30] 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. Estimates for construction of the line ranged from $928 million to $1.12 billion. This included an increase in grade separations from earlier estimates and 300' long platforms to accommodate additional train cars.[31]

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.[32] 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.[32]

In July 2010, CATS announced that funding was being sought to extend the existing line to 9th Street to serve the UNC Charlotte Uptown Campus.[33]

Design (2011–2013)[edit]

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.[34] On the same day, an $18 million federal grant for the project was approved.[34]

On April 19, 2012, the N.C. Department of Transportation committed to paying for 25 percent ($290 million) of the extension's estimated $1.16 billion final cost. Construction was set to begin in 2013.[35] 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.[36]

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 then 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.[37]

On October 16, CATS signed the FFGA with the FTA. The FTA was made responsible for $580 million of the projected $1.16 billion cost. NCDOT would spend $299 million and CATS' share was $281 million.[38]

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.[39]

Construction (2013–present)[edit]

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.[40]

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 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 Infrastructure 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.[41]

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.[42] The contracts have a total budget of $558 million.[43] 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.[7]

On June 8, 2015, the Charlotte city council approved a change order to increase three contracts by $19.5 million and keep the project on schedule; the city council reported still having $170 million in its contingency fund.[44] In September 2015, the US Department of Transportation announced that it had issued a $180 million loan via the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act for Blue Line construction.[45]

By the end of 2015, trackage had been mostly laid and the foundations for the J.W. Clay Boulevard and UNC Charlotte stations had been completed, according to a December construction report from CATS. Work continued on the University City Boulevard and Tom Hunter stations, while grading for foundation work was under way for the McCullough Station. By January 2016, new rail cars had begun to be delivered from Siemens in California, with four of the cars undergoing testing during that month.[46]

Ridership[edit]

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.[47] In its first few months of operation, the Blue Line saw an average daily weekday ridership of 8,700 passengers.[48] 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.[49][50] 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.[50] Daily ridership continued to climb through the fall of 2008 due to increasing gasoline prices, peaking at 22,300 in the third quarter.[51][52][53]

By summer 2009, a CATS survey indicated that 72 percent of Lynx riders did not use public transportation prior to its completion.[54] On December 11, 2009, Lynx celebrated its 10 millionth passenger trip since its opening in November 2007.[55][dead link] For 2009, Lynx saw a decrease in daily ridership from 19,700[56] to 19,500 passengers per day.[57] As of the fourth quarter of 2015, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has Lynx daily ridership at 16,700, 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.[1]

Operations[edit]

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.[58]

Rolling stock[edit]

Interior of a light rail vehicle with blue seats, gray walls and silver pedestrian supports.
Interior of Lynx car #110
See also: Siemens S70

The line operates using Siemens M70 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.[59]

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.[60] 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.[61] 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.[61] 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.[62] The trams cost $3.8 million each and were delivered by Siemens between January–March 2010.[62]

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.[63] 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.[63]

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.[43]

Fares[edit]

A silver and blue ticket vending machine on a station platform with payment options and digital screen visible.
Typical Lynx ticket machine

Tickets for the Blue Line are purchased on the platform of all stations from self-serve ticket vending machines that accept cash, coins, debit, and credit cards.[64] 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. No fare to kids below 6 with fare-paying rider (limit 3).[64][65]

LYNX's fare system is organized on the proof-of-payment system as there are no turnstiles at the entrances to train platforms.[64][66] 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.[64][66] 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.[64] CATS estimates between 4 and 5 percent of total fare revenue is lost from passengers who ride without paying.[67]

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.[68] 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.[68] Due to its success, CATS officials announced that future "blitzes" would target individual stations and not be publicized.[68] As of June 2010, CATS estimates 0.5 percent of daily riders are fare jumpers at a daily loss of $300 in revenue.[69]

Stations[edit]

The 9.6-mile (15.45 km) Blue Line provides service to fifteen stations located within the Charlotte city limits.[70] The initial 1.5-mile (2.4 km) CityLYNX Gold Line services an additional five stations.[71] The stations are all open-air structures featuring passenger canopies for protection from adverse weather conditions.[72] 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.[73] 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.[74] 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.[70][75] 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.[76]

Controversies[edit]

A blue and gray with black glass train stopped with overhead wires and trees visible.
Car #103 at the South Boulevard Light Rail Facility

Viability and transit tax[edit]

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.[77] 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.[78][79] 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.[79] 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.[80]

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[81][82] 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.[83] 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).[84] 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.[85]

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.[86] Mecklenburg County voters overwhelmingly rejected the repeal of the tax, 70 percent to 30 percent, on November 6, 2007.[87][88]

Extent of development generated[edit]

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".[89] 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."[53]

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.[90] 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."[91] 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.[92]

Extension corruption allegations[edit]

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.[93]

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.[94] 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.[94] 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.[95]

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.”[96]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c APTA Q4 2015 Light Rail Transit Ridership Report
  2. ^ a b c Harrison, Steve (24 Nov 2007). "A momentous arrival: After opening-day hoopla, what's ahead for Lynx?". The Charlotte Observer. p. 1A. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Harrison, Steve; Valle, Kristen (25 Nov 2007). "Light rail, heavy traffic – Thousands wait in lines for a free ride on 1st day". The Charlotte Observer. p. 1A.  Available at Red Orbit
  4. ^ a b c "LYNX Blue Line South Corridor Light Rail Project Description". Charlotte Area Transit System. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  5. ^ Rhee, Foon (January 19, 1988). "Is a light rail system in Charlotte's future?". The Charlotte Observer. pp. 1B. 
  6. ^ a b c "Blue Line Home Page"
  7. ^ a b c d Harrison, Steve (10 November 2014). "CATS pushes some light-rail crews for overtime". The Charlotte Observer. 
  8. ^ a b "Project Overview". Charlotte Area Transit System.
  9. ^ Israel, Mae (9 Jul 1985). "Planners propose strategies for shifting Charlotte-Mecklenburg growth balance". The Charlotte Observer. p. 8A. 
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External links[edit]

Route map: Bing / Google

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