It’s been more than four years since a key road in booming NoDa closed to make way for light rail construction, and the road is about two years behind schedule to reopen.
And though the Blue Line extension opened in March, residents will have to wait at least another four weeks to use 36th Street between North Davidson and North Tryon streets. Leading to the heart of NoDa and connecting two busy thoroughfares, the street’s prolonged closure has become a recurring headache for local residents and businesses.
“We’re just existing on this island,” said Hollis Nixon, president of the NoDa Neighborhood and Business Association, who lives on the west side of the intersection. Nixon has been cut off by 36th Street for years, and though the reopening of nearby roads like Craighead have made getting around a bit easier, the 36th Street closure makes her daily travel harder.
“We’re having to take the long way,” Nixon said. “Obviously that’s prevented walking, biking, pedestrian-type uses.”
Crossing to NoDa’s main drag has become a chore. As Nixon put it: “It’s now become a holiday as opposed to an everyday thing.”
The Charlotte Area Transit System closed 36th Street on June 16, 2014, to allow construction of the $1.1 billion Blue Line extension from uptown to UNC Charlotte. The agency originally planned to have the road open again by the fall of 2016. The reopening date has been pushed steadily back, however, and last week announced another delay, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 31.
CATS noted the Oct. 31 reopening date “will continue to depend heavily upon weather conditions and availability of local utility crews.”
Asked what was behind the ongoing delays, CATS spokeswoman Hillary DeLong said much of it has to do with the adjacent Norfolk Southern rail tracks. The freight tracks had to be relocated and moved to a new, adjacent bridge to allow 36th Street to pass underneath.
“NS hired their own contractors to complete their work, thus leaving the city and our contractors subject to the schedules, availability and timelines of Norfolk Southern and their contractors,” DeLong said. Balfour Beatty is the city’s contractor for the project. “We prioritized construction activities that allowed the opening of the light rail system to passenger service.”
A Norfolk Southern spokeswoman said she wasn’t able to provide additional information Tuesday.
The latest month-long delay is due to utility companies sending crews to repair damage from Hurricane Florence in eastern North Carolina. Gas lines have to be connected and tested, and paving, curb, sidewalk and gutter work still remains. DeLong said the city is evaluating potential penalties against the contractor, but that “contractors are not generally held liable for delays that are caused by factors outside of their control.”