Politics & Government

CATS unsure who to blame for delay in Blue Line extension

Light rail extension opening delayed

The Lynx Blue Line Extension to UNC Charlotte won’t open in August 2017 as planned and might not open until next March, the Charlotte Area Transit System said Monday night.
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The Lynx Blue Line Extension to UNC Charlotte won’t open in August 2017 as planned and might not open until next March, the Charlotte Area Transit System said Monday night.

The Charlotte Area Transit System doesn’t know who is to blame for the Lynx Blue Line extension likely missing its planned August 2017 opening, and said it’s evaluating whether to seek damages against the lead contractor, Balfour Beatty.

Balfour Beatty’s $131 million contract, which includes work installing the track and building station platforms, called for the contractor to turn over the project to CATS by March for testing. CATS said the contract allows it to assess a penalty of up to $10,000 a day for being late.

CATS chief executive John Lewis said two weeks ago that the transit system won’t be able to begin testing on the 9.3-mile line this spring.

Rather than opening in August, in time for the new school year at UNC Charlotte, CATS said the line could open as late as March 2018. That’s the deadline for the Federal Transit Administration, which is funding half of the project’s $1.16 billion cost.

The delay has disappointed some City Council members. It’s also frustrated some businesses along the line, who hope the train will bring new customers. They also want construction to end so customers can more easily access their stores.

The Blue Line extension is perhaps the city’s most complicated construction project ever. The rail line runs alongside other passenger and freight tracks for a time, and then runs in the median of North Tryon Street.

When construction began in 2014, one of the first problems was that moving utilities underneath the line was more complicated than CATS thought.

Rather than having one contractor design and build the entire line, CATS divided the line into three segments and had different contractors working on the project.

“The evaluation of the causal factors that ultimately determine what, if any amount of liquidated damages may be due to the City is complex and subject to negotiation with the contractor,” CATS said in a statement to the Observer. “The City will not seek to collect damages from BB if its evaluation determines that it is not due such damages.”

CATS added that the contractor’s liability is “determined by the extend to which delays are caused by the contractor.”

Balfour Beatty referred questions about the project to CATS.

Last week, City Manager Marcus Jones said he believes the project will open before March 2018. But he said the city didn’t want to set a new deadline of late 2017, only to miss that and disappoint people again.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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