A recent federal approval means plans for extending the LYNX light rail line to UNC Charlotte are still on track for a first run in 2017.
Yet the sidewalks, bike lanes, enhanced traffic signals and other improvements that were in place in 2007 for the opening of the southern leg of the Blue Line are unlikely to be in place for the maiden voyage to northeast Charlotte.
The $102.5 million that was to pay for the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure Program disappeared when the Charlotte City Council decided to kill a proposed $926 million capital spending program as it adopted a budget in late June.
Local transportation planners are still likely to host public meetings in September as the pace of planning picks up for street improvements near light rail stations.
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Without a budget for capital spending, the discussions at those public meetings may offer few specifics, said Jim Keenan, an engineering program manager for the city and program manager for the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure Program.
“We had identified a host of projects in each of the station areas,” Kennan said. “We will be saying, until funding is established, we won’t discuss priorities.”
The Charlotte Area Transit System has received approval from the Federal Transit Administration to continue with the final design of the 9.3-mile Blue Line Extension.
Federal approval on July 10 means CATS can move the project from 65 percent of design completed to 100 percent.
CATS also can complete preparations for construction, right-of-way acquisitions and utility relocation.
The Blue Line Extension is expected to have 11 stations and four parking areas. Construction is scheduled to begin late in 2013.
Keeping the light rail project on schedule is critical for economic development and traffic relief in University City, said Edna Chirico, who helped organize nonprofit University City Partners eight years ago and who still serves on its board.
“Traffic is a major complaint of people in the area already,” Chirico said of the city’s second-largest employment center. “We need to have a certain percentage of our students and employees transition to using light rail, or we will just end up in gridlock.”
Investments in infrastructure along light rail corridors are intended to encourage people to walk, ride bikes and use other forms of transportation in combination with transit.
The improvements are also an added incentive for economic development or redevelopment.
Projects along the South Corridor light rail line included widening sidewalks, moving them farther from the street and extending them into neighborhoods.
Other features were bicycle lanes, walking paths, countdown traffic signals for pedestrians and new curbs that better serve people with disabilities.
The city made $30 million available for infrastructure improvements along the northeast corridor in bond packages approved in 2008 and 2010.
Half the money was used for improvements along North Tryon Street between Old Concord Road and J.W. Clay Boulevard, Keenan said.
Widening the roads on the corridor for bicycle lanes, landscaped medians and other projects will require time-consuming steps such as moving utility lines and negotiating land purchases, Keenan said.
Even if the City Council were to put a new capital plan before voters in a 2013 referendum, as Mayor Anthony Foxx has said he plans to suggest, the city probably will not complete roadway improvements on the transit line in time for the Blue Line Extension’s opening, if it remains on schedule.
“A project can easily take four to six years to develop,” Keenan said. “That happens by extensive planning, design and negotiation, which is a lengthy process.”