City maps out streetcar street closures

The city of Charlotte started a series of uptown road closures this week that will run through early September, in order to install special rail pieces for the center city streetcar line.

The first closure started Tuesday, with Trade Street being shut down between College and Brevard streets through July 7.

The second closures will run from June 14 to Aug. 1. The Caldwell/Trade Street intersection will be closed during that period, along with Hawthorne Lane between Fifth Street and the Elizabeth Avenue intersection. Access to Novant Presbyterian Medical Center will go through Fourth Street.

The third and final closure will be from Aug. 1 to Sep. 5. The intersection of Elizabeth Avenue and Kings Drive will be closed so the city can install what it says is the last major piece of track.

That closure will start while Central Piedmont Community College is on summer break. The city, however, said it will impact the first three weeks of the college’s fall semester.

The construction schedule calls for the track to be finished by early fall. After that, the city will install the overhead electrical wires – known as a catenary.

City engineer Jeb Blackwell said the upcoming road closures will allow the city to install what he says are “special” pieces of track.

One will be installed near the Time Warner Cable Arena, which will allow trolleys to access the Lynx Blue Line rails. The city plans to store the trolley cars at the light-rail maintenance facility on South Boulevard.

“It’s gigantic,” Blackwell said of the special track piece.

There are also two “Y-shaped” track pieces at either end of the line that will allow trolleys to change directions.

The closures are for the city’s $37 million starter streetcar line, from the arena to the hospital. The streetcar – also known as the CityLynx Gold Line – is scheduled to open next year. The first phase will use replica trolley cars and will be free to the public.

Charlotte hopes to extend that line to Johnson C. Smith and to Sunnyside Avenue in Elizabeth. That’s estimated to cost $126 million. The city is seeking a federal grant to pay for half of the construction costs.

The long-term plan is to build the streetcar from Rosa Parks Transit Center on Beatties Ford Road to the site of the old Eastland Mall.

The City Council on Tuesday approved adding $4.5 million to an existing $38.5 million contract with STV Ralph Whitehead Associates for extra work on the Lynx Blue Line extension, which will run from uptown to UNC Charlotte. STV is a project manager for the extension.

Construction contracts for the $1.1 billion light-rail line have come in about $50 million under budget, which has allowed the Charlotte Area Transit System to restore some features to the line that had previously been cut. Overall, CATS is adding about $10 million worth of projects, including a new parking deck at the Sugar Creek station, extra ticket vending machines, a fifth level for a parking deck at the J.W. Clay/UNC Charlotte station and additional spare parts for light-rail vehicles.

Council member Ed Driggs questioned whether the city is being as careful with the light-rail surplus as it would with other projects.

“When we have an unused amount of money how do we decide what to do?” Driggs said. “What choices do we have? I’m concerned we don’t have the same amount of discipline (with the Blue Line).”

CATS chief executive Carolyn Flowers said the projects that were added were part of the original plan, but had been cut in 2010 when the transit system was worried about making budget. Council member Michael Barnes said the added projects will increase ridership.

CATS has said that the bidding environment is more favorable to the city in 2014 than in 2005 and 2006 when the South Boulevard light-rail line was built. Nine years ago, CATS said some cost increases were due to a spike in steel prices due to a construction boom in China.