CATS boss gives SouthPark update on transit

While Charlotte Area Transit System infrastructure is growing outside of south Charlotte with the expansion of the city’s Light Rail Blue Line toward Concord, CATS CEO Carolyn Flowers reminded local business leaders this week about the key role the service plays in SouthPark.

Flowers spoke at a recent meeting of the SouthPark chapter of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, giving a packed house updates on CATS operations, where the service goes from here and to show the “accomplishments we’ve made through your investment.”

Those recent accomplishments have focused on how to handle the region’s 35 percent growth in population in the last decade, as well as a commuter culture that’s grown from almost half of that growth occurring outside of the Interstate 485 loop. That number hits home for south Charlotte residents, with numerous neighborhoods in Ballantyne growing outside the loop, not to mention the mass of commuters from western Union County using south Charlotte roads to reach Uptown. CATS made more than 26 million trips in 2013, Flowers said, which reflects a 40 percent increase compared to 2005. CATS also introduced hybrid buses with lower emissions in that time, as well as bike racks at transit stations.

Flowers eventually wants to have cross-town routes throughout the city – specifically mentioning the SouthPark Community Transit center, which connects three routs directly to the Blue Line – to cut down on the amount of transit system trips going to the hub Uptown and allow people to transfer and connect in multiple locations.

“As Charlotte is growing, less people need to come to Uptown to get to other places,” Flowers said.

CATS recently broke ground on the extension of the Blue Line, which eventually will reach the University of North Carolina at Charlotte though originally was planned to reach the I-485 interchange with Interstate 85 in Concord. Projected daily ridership on the line is expected to increase to more than 24,000 by 2035, Flowers said. With a completion date of 2017 and an estimated budget of $1.16 billion, the extension will have 11 stations, four park and ride stations with about 3,000 spaces, an integrated bus service from adjacent neighborhoods to the light rail station and expansion of two platforms to accommodate three-car trains which will give riders a projected continuous travel time of 47 minutes from I-485/South Boulevard through Center City to UNC Charlotte.

Besides the Blue Line Extension, Charlotte is moving forward with the controversial CityLYNX Gold Line, previously known as the Charlotte Streetcar Starter Project, which caused an uproar during past budget discussions when many in south Charlotte said they were paying hundreds of millions of dollars for a service they’d never use.

The project, currently in Phase 1 of construction, will give Uptown a 10-mile transit system that will be completed in stages. The first stage, a 1.5-mile track from the Charlotte Transportation Center to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, should be complete in March 2015.

Charlotte will fund the second phase of the Gold Line through a 50/50 match. Half of the funding will come from a non-property tax capital funding local match and, assuming all goes well the second time around, half will come from federal funding that Charlotte will aggressively attempt to secure, such as the FTA Small Starts Program and the TIGER Grant.

SouthPark business leaders also learned more about transportation to and from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport – a main draw for many business looking to relocate to the Queen City. Although the airport is in the long-term plan for mass transit improvements, Flowers said it is the last project and could take years to come to fruition – a time estimate a few were not happy to hear about.

Paula Harvey, chief executive officer of K&P Consulting, said she appreciated hearing about the transit system, but is concerned with not having the easy access to the airport that some larger cities do, because having a transit system to and from the airport helps brings companies to the city.

Find updates on CATS and the system’s projects at www.ridetransit.org or www.charlottefuture.org.

 

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