Local transit planners recommended nearly a decade ago against building light-rail along Independence Boulevard.
But the Charlotte Area Transit System has resurrected the idea as part of its early planning for the Silver Line corridor, which would connect uptown and Matthews. CATS has also proposed building light-rail on or near Monroe Road as an alternative.
Transit officials have held meetings with residents about the two proposals to get their input, and plan to bring a Silver Line plan to the Metropolitan Transit Commission in June.
But before CATS can decide where to build a new rail line, the transit system would need hundreds of millions of new dollars – likely from a new transit sales tax. A Silver Line train to Matthews would likely cost at least $1 billion. The federal government might help fund that line, but CATS would still need to fund a large chunk of the cost.
The MTC, which helps decide how transit money is spent, directed CATS five years ago to look at rail options for the southeast corridor. Jason Lawrence, a project manager for the Silver Line study, said CATS considered commuter rail and a streetcar for the area. But he said residents wanted a train that would operate in its own right-of-way, like the Blue Line.
“What we have heard from the public is that we have an overwhelming support for reliable travel time in a dedicated right of way,” he said.
Last decade, former CATS chief executive Ron Tober felt that building light-rail on Independence Boulevard wouldn’t make sense. He believed that Independence Boulevard was too busy of a highway to entice developers to build new housing, stores and offices near train stations, similar to what has happened on the Blue Line.
But CATS is reconsidering. Here are some early possibilities of where the Silver Line might be built:
▪ One option would be for the rail line to be built adjacent to Independence. (The median of Independence has been reserved for express toll lanes that buses could also use.)
▪ Another option is to build the train line alongside Monroe Road. That would most likely mean the train would operate more like a streetcar, because it would have to stop at traffic lights and slow for congestion.
▪ A big question is how the train would enter uptown. CATS has proposed several options, including having the train use the existing streetcar tracks. One problem with using the streetcar tracks is that a Silver Line light rail train might be too long, meaning the train might block intersections while stopped at red lights.
The train could also follow the John Belk Freeway to the south of uptown or the Brookshire Freeway to the north. If either of those routes were chosen, the Silver Line could tie in to the Blue Line tracks.
Lawrence said CATS wants to also study how to extend the Silver Line to west Charlotte and the airport.
Money isn’t the only hurdle for the building the Silver Line. The city and CATS have two other projects they are considering building.
After the Blue Line Extension opens next summer, CATS has plans to build a commuter rail line to Lake Norman. At this point, however, CATS doesn’t have approval from Norfolk Southern railroad to share its freight rail tracks that would be used for the project.
There also is no money available to build it, and it’s unlikely the existing transit tax will grow enough in the next decade to pay for it.
The city of Charlotte is also trying to expand the streetcar, or Gold Line. The long-term plan calls for the Gold Line to run from the Rosa Parks Transit Center to the site of Eastland Mall.