A new bridge could close one of the biggest gaps in Charlotte's pedestrian infrastructure, the Rail Trail between uptown and South End, Charlotte Center City Partners CEO Michael Smith said this week.
If you've ever tried to walk from uptown to South End, or vice versa, you've probably noticed that the pedestrian path running along the Blue Line light rail abruptly ends just before Interstate 277. From there, you can walk up a flight of stairs and a ramp that deposits you on a narrow sidewalk along Morehead Street. A walk of several blocks across busy intersections and construction zones is required to get back on the Rail Trail.
Meanwhile, the Blue Line glides along to Stonewall Street and the Convention Center, the tracks split from any pedestrian access for blocks. The original plans to connect the pedestrian path all the way through uptown were dropped at the last minute to save money on the first leg of the Blue Line, which opened in 2007.
"It was in the plan, and it was value engineered out to stay on budget and on time," said Smith. "It was the right move at the time, but the public has suffered that missing piece of infrastructure. ... it's like having a two-story house without stairs."
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The Convention Center is planning to build a pedestrian bridge over Stonewall Street, connecting the center to the new Novel Stonewall development. That project will include 459 apartments, two hotels and a Whole Foods — likely making it a popular destination for people in South End who wouldn't be able to easily walk there without a bridge over I-277.
As part of the new South End Vision Plan under consideration by Charlotte City Council, a pedestrian path running along the light rail has been identified as a priority.
Smith said the group, which works to boost economic development in uptown and South End, has identified $7 million worth of funds that could be used for that bridge. The total cost would be roughly $10 million to $11 million, Smith said, meaning some city funds would be required to pay for the rest of the project.
Smith declined to say where the $7 million they've identified would come from, but said the funds would be largely from private sources of money.
"We've been able to raise private dollars," said Smith. "We just have to decide if it's a priority."