Along a grassy stretch of railroad track in downtown Charlotte, a groundbreaking ceremony on July 18 marked another important step in bringing light rail to UNC Charlotte. The $1 billion northeast extension of the Charlotte Area Transit System’s Lynx light rail line is due for completion in 2017. The extension will link UNC Charlotte’s main campus, students, and faculty with UNC Charlotte Center City and businesses, organizations, and cultural groups.
When finished, the system will link commuters who park as far south as Pineville in the southern part of Mecklenburg County with the UNC Charlotte campus to the north. Two stops will serve the University – one just south of the Charlotte Research Institute campus on North Tryon Street and one right across the street from the North Village residence halls. For fans attending football games and other athletic events, performing arts, and other community activities, light rail will provide a convenient transportation option.
Chancellor Philip L. Dubois is a longtime advocate for the Blue Line Extension. He championed the plan for light rail to enter campus and was instrumental in granting easements and improvements totaling more than $5 million that will allow CATS to build on state-owned property at the main campus.
Funding appears set for the project. Announced last year, a State Full Funding Grant Agreement will provide 25 percent of the funding for the Lynx Blue Line Extension. That set the stage for CATS to receive a full funding grant agreement of 50 percent of the project costs from the FTA.
The 9.4-mile alignment would stretch from Ninth Street to the main UNC Charlotte campus. It would include 11 light rail stations and four parking facilities. Construction of the $1.16 billion project is scheduled to begin fall 2013 with operational service expected in 2017.
"The reason we all have worked together so hard, so well, and for so long is that we have understood that the benefits to the city were too large and too significant not to... both in the job creation that would be necessary just to construct the rail line, and also in the long-term potential for development along the northeast corridor," Dubois said.
"Indeed, back in 2009, it was estimated that the long-term value of property development as a result of light rail would be more than $2 billion when inflation was factored in, and as high as $3 billion considering future property revaluations. The result is a projected $500 million in additional property tax revenue and $740 million in sales taxes through 2035.
"That is why our refrain on light rail has been consistent. It cannot be thought of simply as a cost. It will be one of our most important investments," Dubois said.
Here's a video from the groundbreaking ceremony.
Photo by Wade Bruton.