Light rail extension opening delayed
The Lynx Blue Line extension to UNC Charlotte won’t open in August 2017 as planned and might not be done until next March, the Charlotte Area Transit System said Monday night.
Delays in moving utilities and other problems have made it impossible for CATS to open the line this year, CATS chief executive John Lewis said. While most of the track has been laid and the stations have been finished, there are “thousands of electrical connections that need to be made,” Lewis said.
Other unfinished work includes testing vehicles and signals.
Lewis said he thinks the 9.3-mile extension will be finished by March 2018 – the federal government’s deadline for CATS to finish the project. Lewis didn’t say what would happen if CATS couldn’t open the train by March. CATS didn’t know if it might have to pay financial penalties for missing the deadline.
“I’m confident that we will meet that deadline,” Lewis said.
Construction on the extension began three years ago. CATS divided construction work among numerous contractors and different segments, and the project fell behind. One problem was moving utilities. Another complication was working along the Norfolk Southern railroad.
“We are down to the wire,” Lewis said. “But there isn’t enough time to finish the kind of detail and signals and system work that’s left while still leaving enough time to test.”
Lewis said the $1.16 billion project is still $87 million under budget. He said he doesn’t believe the project will go over budget. The line runs from Seventh Street uptown through NoDa to UNC Charlotte’s campus. CATS hoped to have the train in time for the start of the fall semester.
CATS had hoped that the lead contractor, Balfour Beatty, would have been able to turn over the rail corridor to CATS in March. Lewis said CATS will have a better idea in May whether the project could open before March 2018.
Council member Greg Phipps, who represents University City, said he was “disappointed” by the news.
“A lot of advertising and promotions were tied to that August 2017 date,” he said. “But there is nothing we can do at this point.”
The University City area is Charlotte’s second-biggest employment center after uptown, with 75,000 employees. It’s a major residential zone, with 160,000 residents, and features a school with 28,000 students.
The city’s rail program started in 1998 when voters approved a half-cent sales tax for transit. That helped pay for the Blue Line from uptown to Interstate 485, which opened in 2007 at a cost of $463 million.
Charlotte transit officials are also considering an ambitious plan to extend light rail to the airport, Matthews and Iredell County – virtually all at once.
That plan, which could cost as much as $6 billion, includes a new light-rail corridor through northern towns, abandoning a long-planned “Red Line” commuter rail along existing tracks.