After nearly two decades of discussion, the Charlotte Area Transit System has selected a route for the Silver Line – a proposed light-rail line running along and near Independence Boulevard from uptown to Matthews.
The Silver Line would likely cost at least $1 billion, and CATS doesn’t have a funding source to pay for it. It also doesn’t have a schedule for moving forward.
But the transit system is pushing ahead with a concrete plan so residents can picture what the future might hold – and be more willing to support a possible tax increase to build it.
CATS studied 18 routes for the line.
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It settled on a route that begins near the Interstate 277 interchange with U.S. 74.
Leaving uptown on its way to Matthews, the train would hug Independence Boulevard on the north side of the highway.
When it reaches Bojangles’ Coliseum/Ovens Auditorium area, the train would cross the highway by bridge. The tracks would then run across the parking lots of the coliseum and auditorium. A station is planned for the two venues.
The line would then continue along the south side of Independence Boulevard until it reaches Village Lake Drive, 4.5 miles from Bojangles’ Coliseum. At Village Lake Drive, the line would turn due south until it reaches the median of Monroe Road.
Though the train would be in the median of Monroe Road, CATS doesn’t plan for the train to stop at any street lights, as the streetcar does.
“(Residents) wanted a light-rail Lynx Blue Line type of service,” said Jason Lawrence of the Charlotte Area Transit System. “There will be grade separations at the major intersections.”
Before reaching N.C. 51, the Silver Line would turn to the east to Sam Newell Road. The line would stop at Novant Health Matthews Medical Center, the Sportsplex and end at the Central Piedmont Community College Levine Campus.
What’s still unknown is how the Silver Line would enter uptown. CATS hasn’t decided whether to follow the Brookshire Freeway north of uptown or to take a southern route, perhaps up Stonewall Street.
Another question: How would the Silver Line impact businesses along Independence Boulevard?
Today there are numerous entrance and exit points on the highway that allow access to small businesses and shopping centers. Having the light-rail line running parallel to the highway would disrupt that access.
Lawrence said the city’s long-term plan for Independence calls for many of the businesses to turn away from the highway, with their entrances coming from side streets. In one of the transit system’s renderings, the nearly vacant Coliseum shopping center near Bojangles’ Coliseum has been torn down.
“You don’t want people turning in front of the train,” Lawrence said.
Other features: The line would have 7-10 miles of rail trails for pedestrians.
The line would have 13 stations, with eight or 10 of the stations having park-and-ride lots.
CATS and the city have struggled to determine what’s the best transit option for the area.
Ron Tober, who was CATS chief executive when the Lynx Blue Line opened in 2007, didn’t want light-rail because he didn’t think Independence Boulevard was conducive to producing the kind of development that’s sprung up near stations in the South End.
Under Tober’s leadership, the plan was to have bus-rapid transit on Independence Boulevard.
CATS then considered a streetcar along Monroe Road or a commuter rail line on the CSX corridor nearby.
After years of meeting with residents, CATS decided that light-rail would be the best option.
An unanswered question is how to pay for it.
The existing half-cent sales tax for transit will be exhausted when the Blue Line extension opens next year.
CATS chief executive John Lewis has said he wants to wait for the light-rail extension to University City to open before he begins discussing ways CATS could pay for the new lines. He said said he would like a regional approach, in which neighboring counties also contribute financially.
The Silver Line would come within less than a mile of the Union County line, but it could be extended.