CityLynx Gold Line
|CityLynx Gold Line|
|System||Charlotte Area Transit System|
|Locale||Charlotte, North Carolina|
Hawthorne & 5th (east)
|Opened||July 14, 2015|
|Owner||Charlotte Area Transit System|
|Operator(s)||Charlotte Area Transit System|
|Line length||1.5 mi (2.4 km) (Phase 1)|
10 mi (16 km) (planned)
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The CityLynx Gold Line is a streetcar line in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States, the first phase of which opened in 2015. The line is an extension of the Charlotte Area Transit System's Lynx rail system. With two additional phases planned for completion by 2023, the line is ultimately intended to connect the University Park area of west Charlotte with Eastland Community Transit Center in east Charlotte via Uptown Charlotte. It is proposed to follow a primarily east-west path along Beatties Ford Road, Trade Street and Central Avenue, through central Charlotte. In 2006, it was projected to be 10 miles (16 km) long with 34 stops and be completed between Rosa Parks Place and Presbyterian Hospital by 2019 at a cost of $211 million. CATS estimated that the completed route would have an average daily ridership of between 14,200 and 16,700 passengers by 2030.
The initial 1.5-mile (2.4 km), six-stop segment (Phase 1) between Time Warner Cable Arena and Presbyterian Hospital opened for service on July 14, 2015. A further 2.5-mile (4.0 km) 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 be constructed by late 2016 and to open for service in early 2020. The third and final phase between Hawthorne Lane and Eastland CTC, and from French Street to Rosa Parks CTC, has been planned for completion by 2023 at a cost of $231 million. It was reported in July 2015, however, that the city had no funds to contribute toward the building of the third phase.
In June 2006 initial costs for the completion of the Center City Corridor streetcar line were stated at about $250 million. The streetcars would serve as a replacement for both the No. 7 and No. 9 CATS bus routes currently serving Beatties Ford Road and Central Avenue, respectively. With an estimated cost and ridership in place, the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) voted on the priority for its construction in November 2006.
At its November meeting the MTC voted to prioritize the construction and completion of both the Blue Line Extension to UNC Charlotte and the Red Line commuter rail to Lake Norman over the construction and completion of the Central City streetcar. At this time the MTC also determined that initial engineering studies for the corridor would commence in 2013 with a phased completion by 2023. Although construction was not slated to commence until the mid-2010s, streetcar tracks for the line were installed as part of a streetscape project along the Elizabeth Avenue segment between CPCC and Presbyterian Hospital to be complete by 2009.
Although identified as the number three priority by the MTC, by 2008 CATS began to determine means by which to speed up its construction and be operational by 2013. To further expedite the proposed streetcar line, in May 2008, the Charlotte City Council approved $500,000 to study the corridor in terms of an updated cost estimate, economic benefits and the eligibility of the corridor for federal funding. However, in order to complete the line by 2013, CATS has stated that additional capital will be required due to other projects already budgeted and in progress.
In the spring of 2010, the Federal Transit Administration awarded the project a $25 million grant. On September 19, 2011, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood formally awarded Charlotte with the grant for a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) starter streetcar line from Time Warner Cable Arena to Presbyterian Hospital. Construction was started in December 2012, with plans to begin service in 2015. The line was expected to cost $37 million, with the city paying $12 million; however, the city did not state how it will pay for an estimated $1.5 million in operating costs.
Construction and opening of Phase 1
In November 2012, the Charlotte city council awarded a $26.3 million contract for construction of the starter segment to a partnership between Balfour Beatty Rail and Blythe Development Company. The groundbreaking for the initial 1.5 mile (2.41 kilometer) segment of the line took place on December 12, 2012 in front of Presbyterian Hospital, with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Mayor Foxx and other officials in attendance. By May 2014, the initial segment was 45 percent completed. While the line had originally been scheduled to open in March 2015, in January 2015 the opening date was moved to June due to construction errors on the part of the contractor, and was subsequently moved to July 2015.
On July 14, 2015, the Phase I section of the Gold Line began service. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former mayor of Charlotte, Anthony Foxx, delivered the keynote speech. Foxx had been one of the primary backers of the streetcar project.
Phase 2 plans and renaming of line
A $119 m. streetcar extension proposed by Mayor Anthony Foxx in early 2012, which would have taken the line to Johnson C. Smith University, 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. After protracted debate, on May 13, 2013, Ron Carlee, the new Charlotte city manager, said the Center City Corridor would be renamed the CityLynx Gold Line. Carlee said the $126 million extension of the 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.
On May 15, Bay Area Economics, an independent consultant hired by the city in 2009 to conduct a streetcar economic impact study, reported the proposed second phase could generate 1.1 million square feet of new development for the city by 2035, and nearly $2.4 million in new property taxes. On May 28, the Charlotte city council voted 7-4 to build the Phase 2 extension, setting aside $63 million for the purpose; the line will run from Sunnyside Avenue to French Street.
On September 3, it was reported the Gold Line extension had been passed over for a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant, intended to cover the remaining $63 million it would cost to build the line. On November 13, the city announced it would apply to the Federal Transit Administration for permission to begin planning the line in detail. If the FTA grants approval in early 2014, the city will apply for a federal Small Starts grant in September 2014, which the FTA will review and hopefully approve in early 2015.
On January 27, 2014, the Charlotte city council voted 8-3 to spend up to $12 million on engineering work for the extension. Carlee said the city would have to spend some of the $63 million it had allocated for the extension in May to demonstrate to the FTA that the project was viable. On February 26, the FTA issued its approval for CATS to begin project development for the extension and to apply for the Federal Small Starts grant in September 2014. On September 8, the Charlotte city council voted 7-4 to build the second phase and proceed with applying for the federal grant. As well, the Hawthorne Lane bridge over Independence Boulevard will need to be replaced to handle the weight of streetcars.
On June 22, 2015, the Charlotte city council voted 7-4 to approve $7.7 million for further Phase 2 design work. The initial request for construction bids returned two bids in July 2016 that came in over budget, leading CATS to request a second round of bidding the following month. On November 28, 2016, the council awarded a $94 million construction contract to Johnson Bros. Corporation to build the 2.5 miles of trackage in Phase 2, as well as associated road and landscaping work. Construction began in 2017, with completion required by August 31, 2020 under the terms of the federal funding used. Starting on June 3, 2019; CATS replaced streetcar service along the line with a shuttle bus in order to facilitate construction of Phase 2. Streetcar service was initially slated to resume in 2020, but was pushed back to 2021 to accommodate the 2020 Republican National Convention.
As of July 2015, the line uses three vintage-style replica-Birney streetcars built in 2003–04 by the Gomaco Trolley Company (Nos. 91–93) and transferred from the former Charlotte Trolley system. However, CATS plans to replace those with cars with modern light rail vehicles (similar to those used on the Blue Line) when a planned Phase 2 of the Gold Line opens, projected for 2019. Powered by an overhead catenary system, the streetcars have an operating speed of 16 mph (26 km/h). They are air-conditioned and handicapped accessible.
The CityLynx Gold Line is free for all passengers. Fares will be introduced once Phase 2 is operational.
The CityLynx Gold Line project has been criticized for its high cost and limited projected benefits for the areas it is intended to serve, though at the present time, the net benefits from future development as a result of the streetcar line are difficult to assess. The line is currently estimated to cost $150 million to build, with an additional $6.2 million a year incurred in operating costs. According to city officials, the cost increase is largely inflation-based. Recent cost-benefit analyses have shown that at a cost of $1.58 per passenger mile (predicted for 2019), it would cost twice as much to operate as either city bus (77 cents/passenger mile, in 2012) or light rail services (68 cents/passenger mile, in 2012), while traveling over a shorter distance. 
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.
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