Charlotte light rail extension’s stations taking shape

Light rail construction is moving beyond the much-bemoaned street closings that have plagued uptown as crews put down tracks for the $1.16 billion, 9.3-mile Blue Line Extension.

Now the northern line’s 11 stations are taking shape between Ninth Street uptown and the final stop at UNC Charlotte.

Crews are building foundations for station platforms that are scheduled to open to the first riders in August 2017.

Those foundations, at or below ground level, are on construction sites that are among the first visible markers of where passengers will be able to board trains on the northern leg of the light rail.

“Along Brevard you can start to see the Parkwood Station,” said Hillary Ryan, spokeswoman for Charlotte Area Transit System. “It’s starting to get the outline of the shelter. Those are the things the traveling public will see first.”

Foundations for the J.W. Clay Boulevard and UNC Charlotte stations have been completed, according to a December construction report from CATS. Work continues at the University City Boulevard and Tom Hunter stations, while grading for foundation work is under way for the McCullough Station.

The first of 22 new 99,800-pound rail cars have begun arriving from California. Four were moved into testing in January, which is required before each can pass a safety inspection.

“It’s a big coordinated effort,” Ryan said. “They arrive on tractor trailers. It takes them a month to get here.”

The rail cars are an update of the models purchased in 2006 for the Blue Line’s original southern leg. The newer cars seat 68 passengers, have four bike racks and 10 interior and exterior cameras.

The new trains will be stored at the Blue Line’s main vehicle maintenance facility off South Boulevard and at the newer north yard, located between the Blue Line Extension’s Parkwood and 25th Street stations.

“We are going to stage the cars there so we have a place for them to sit while we finish building the rail,” Ryan said.

Perhaps the best news is that streets in uptown that had been closed for track installation are being opened again, easing travel near UNC Charlotte’s uptown campus and the new First Ward Park. East 12th and East 16th streets are among the roads that have reopened.

But street closings elsewhere may still occur periodically during construction. A portion of the busy intersection at North Tryon Street and McCullough Drive in the University City area closed Thursday and is scheduled to remain blocked until Feb. 11.

Construction continues to widen North Tryon Street, where four station platforms will be built in the median.

Widening the heavily traveled thoroughfare has called for paving and installation of sidewalks, curbs and gutters. With more paving in place, crews have been able to shift traffic away from construction in the median.

The Blue Line Extension’s largest stations will be at 36th Street near North Davidson Street in the NoDa neighborhood, at University City Boulevard and at UNC Charlotte.

Appropriate for its location in an artsy community, the 36th Street Station will be visually eye-catching. That’s partly because the design offers more surfaces to work with.

The platform at 36th will sit on a bridge, with towering pillars as supports. Thirty-sixth Street remains closed to traffic. It is being lowered to carry vehicles under the station.

At University City Boulevard, riders will have access to the Blue Line’s largest parking deck, with 1,500 spaces at North Tryon and Stetson Drive. A pedestrian bridge over North Tryon will connect the deck and the station, which will be in the median.

Public art will be a main feature of the UNC Charlotte Station, under construction near Cameron Boulevard and Poplar Lane, close to Wallis Hall.

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms