A proposed light-rail extension to University City is slowly taking shape – with more bridges, a new station and longer platforms to accommodate three-car trains. It also has a bigger price tag.
After six months of engineering work, the Charlotte Area Transit System now expects the 11-mile extension to cost $900 million, up from the $750 million estimate of two years ago. CATS said the higher costs are due to the rising cost of raw materials, but also because the line is becoming more complex.
CATS began serious engineering and design work in March, and expects to complete the final design in 2010. CATS hopes the federal government will then agree to pay for half of the construction costs, as it did in building the Lynx Blue Line.
“I'm optimistic,” said Danny Rogers, the extension's project manager for CATS. “It looks like a great project. And based on the South Corridor, we'll see a tremendous desire for this.”
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CATS had hoped to open the extension by 2013. But it abandoned work during last year's fight over the transit sales tax, and it now expects the line wouldn't open until 2015.
As CATS and its consultant, STV/Ralph Whitehead, have studied how to build the extension, they have made several design changes:
The station at NoDa – 36th Street – will now be on the Tryon Street side of the existing railroad tracks, instead of closer to Brevard Street. CATS also wants to bury 36th Street, and have light-rail and four other train tracks run over the road.
That would eliminate the need for gate crossings and would make it safer for pedestrians.
“There are six tracks to get across,” Rogers said. “That could be dangerous.”
For much of the route, the line will run in the median of North Tryon Street. CATS has decided that it will widen North Tryon Street to the west, rather than widening the road on both sides.
The Tom Hunter station at North Tryon and Tom Hunter Road may not have a park-and-ride lot, as originally planned. Rogers said new estimates of how many commuters would use the lot are low and the adjoining land might be better served for development.
The planned City Boulevard and Harris stations have been scrapped, and replaced with the McCullough station, at Tryon and McCollough Drive.
CATS plans to cross W.T. Harris Boulevard with a bridge, not a tunnel.
The line will leave the North Tryon Street median by going below grade, and then under a new bridge that must be built for the westbound lanes of Tryon.
The extension will be much harder to build than the Lynx Blue Line.
While the Lynx ran on existing Charlotte Trolley tracks uptown, and along an existing rail bed farther south, the extension doesn't have a natural corridor.
CATS chief executive Keith Parker is bullish on the line, but he also tried to temper enthusiasm by warning that it might be too expensive to build.
CATS is also considering building a commuter rail line to the Lake Norman area, and the city of Charlotte is taking the lead on building a streetcar through central Charlotte. Parker said he plans to lobby the federal government to fund up to 80 percent of those projects, hoping to capitalize on the success of the Lynx Blue Line.
The Lynx's first-year goal was to average 9,100 trips in its first year, but it has averaged more than 16,000 weekday trips in the last two months.
CATS plans to build the northeast extension's station's platforms long enough to handle three-car trains. Parker has said he wants to spend $50 million to upgrade the Lynx line, including money to expand the platforms there from 200 to 300 feet long.
If you are taking the bus or train Monday, bring a couple of extra dimes.
An off-year fare increase goes into effect Monday to help offset a $4 million hole in the Charlotte Area Transit System's budget due to high fuel costs.
The cost of a one-way ticket will be $1.50, up from $1.30.
CATS policy is to raise fares every two years, to avoid shocking its riders with a large hike every five years or so. But this summer's sharp increase in fuel costs led to an unscheduled increase. CATS raised fares last year, from $1.20 to $1.30.
CATS expects the increase to raise an additional $1.9 million. It's hoping fuel prices subside this fall, but it hasn't ruled out another hike in 2009.
Monthly passes for October bought before Monday don't reflect the higher fares.
The N.C. DOT has given up, for now, on lighting Interstate 77 near uptown, around LaSalle Street and the Brookshire Freeway. The state began repairing those nonworking lights this year, but thieves repeatedly pinched the copper wire. The state plans to regroup and determine how to secure the wire.
Jen Thompson, an N.C. DOT spokeswoman, said the rest of I-77 lighting in south Charlotte is almost finished. Additional work is needed at Trade, Morehead and Tyvola.