Hours after the July 18 groundbreaking celebration for the Blue Line extension of the Lynx light rail system, University City residents crowded into a room at IKEA to hear more about the project.The forum, which about 90 people attended, was hosted by District 4 City Council member Michael Barnes, who represents the University City area. Barnes said interest in the project among residents at a town hall meeting earlier this summer was so high that it warranted a separate forum. The extension will double the length of the 9.3-mile light-rail system, which runs along South Boulevard, through uptown, and to Interstate 485. It will add 11 stops, including ones at UNC Charlotte, Tom Hunter Road and J.W. Clay Boulevard. When construction on the extension begins in January 2014, it will be the result of years of planning on the $1.1 billion capital project. UNCC Chancellor Phil Dubois realized the importance of a Blue Line when he was still provost in 1992, said Martin Zimmerman, who was a planner for UNCC in 1992. That’s when a Blue Line on UNCC’s campus was first included in the university’s master plan. But the largeness and complexity of the project slowed the planning and funding process, Zimmerman said. At the groundbreaking, city officials said the project would be a way to prepare for growth. Dubois said UNCC, which has about 26,300 students, could have an enrollment of more than 35,000 by 2020. Once the extension is completed, light rail ridership is expected to increase by 18,000 people per day. But before residents are able to use the extended light rail in March 2017, residents will be affected by the construction, and especially by increased traffic. “Construction definitely means a mess before we get to the final product,” Carolyn Flowers, CEO of the Charlotte Area Transportation System, said at the meeting. “It will be inconvenient for a while,” Barnes added. But the drawbacks of the project do not outweigh the benefits, the city officials said. “We want to make this whole area revitalized,” said Jill Brim, a senior engineer for CATS who spoke at the public forum. “We’re trying to incorporate that in low-cost ways.” Brim outlined the major features of the project, including larger train platforms to account for increased ridership, art at the stations and ways residents can stay informed about the construction schedule. Zimmerman, director of the Charlotte-based firm Green Mobility Planning Studio USA, said planning ahead and using partnerships are important ways for the Blue Line project to be successful and improve development in the area. “There seems to be an assumption in Charlotte (that) if you build it, they will come,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s true, especially in the United States, where we are so auto-dependent. That’s the other side of the coin.”Zimmerman, a professional city planner, said South End development benefited from strong partnerships before the light rail was built there. Meanwhile, he said, the northeast corridor did not have such partnerships, and suffered as a result. “We’re nervous and anxious that we won’t see the short-term payoff that you’ve seen in the south corridor,” Zimmerman said. Brim said the city would try to avoid past mistakes made on the light rail. “We have an area called ‘lessons learned’ from the existing Blue Line that we can bring forward,” she said. One area they hope to improve upon, she said, is coordination with technicians, UNCC and city departments.Brim said residents could call the Blue Line at any time with questions about the project, and the city will make an effort to keep residents informed about the process. Forum attendees Bob and Jo Anne Caruso, who live off Prosperity Church Road, said although they were concerned about traffic issues during construction, the city made them feel confident that they would be notified about construction and alternate routes.The Carusos also said they were excited about the extension, and they planned to use the light rail’s new stops. “It will be great for University City and the city itself,” Bob Caruso said. “We go into town a lot, and this will be another avenue for us.”
Sunday, Jul. 28, 2013
Charlotte’s light rail extension to UNCC breaks ground
Albright: 704-578-7075; Twitter: @amanda_albright
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less