By Yustin Riopko
MATTHEWS – Slowly but surely, details are settling into place for the CATS LYNX Silver Line.
The light rail project will stretch from Belmont through center-city Charlotte and Matthews, and could reach into Stallings.
The town of Matthews created a 15-member committee of residents called the Silver Line Task Force. The committee’s job is to recommend a path for the light rail to take through Charlotte’s southeast corridor.
Matthews Public Works Director C.J. O’Neill presented a brief history of the Silver Line to the task force at their Sept. 2 meeting.
Until 2011, the plan had been for the rail to go in the median of Independence Boulevard, but that space was repurposed for managed traffic lanes. Since then, Charlotte has decided its portion of the line will come down alongside Independence but switch over to enter Matthews tracing Monroe Road.
CATS has hosted public meetings and surveys for input on what the Silver Line should look like.
According to O’Neill, citizens came to think of bus and rail as serving different purposes.
“Bus was seen as a regional connection,” O’Neill said. “It’s made to bring people from Matthews to uptown Charlotte and back. So that’s basically your commuter option for peak hours, for morning rush and evening rush, whereas the role of the rail was to be more of a destination corridor – one that brought you from destination to destination. Brought you from Matthews to say the Bojangles arena, to uptown Charlotte to watch a Panthers game and now to the airport.”
A majority of residents from the south Charlotte and Matthews area said they wanted a more efficient and reliable travel time even if it meant significant property would be required for a designated right of way. That told CATS that people preferred a separate alignment for the rail system. Respondents also suggested they would rather be able to get to more stops with a slower commute than just a few stops quickly.
While the rail’s exact route is still up in the air, some things are certain. Matthews residents told CATS planners the Silver Line should serve the Novant Health Medical Center, the Sportsplex, and downtown Matthews, although the exact station points are undecided. Every option the task force is considering includes a stop at Central Piedmont Community College’s Levine Campus.
“Overall we want to look at the long term, but I do think we need to consider the short term,” committee member Natasha Edwards said. “There’s so many valuable businesses and families in the community that would potentially have a big impact during the construction stage. We want to make sure [businesses] are viable and that they’re able to continue. I don’t want to see local people losing their jobs or business because of the construction of the CATS line.”
David Blackley agreed: “A lot of disruption of small businesses is going to take its toll. We’ve seen what four or five months of COVID does.”
Committee member Wyatt Dixon said, “This is kind of like you decided you’re gonna to have elective surgery. You’re gonna have some real short-term pain for some long-term gain, and I think trying to balance that is going to be an interesting discussion.”
Some other issues on the task force’s mind are parking and traffic. One draft for the Silver Line that goes straight through Matthews has no parking for the station downtown.
“I think in general for downtown areas to have a vibrant use of the rail, they’re gonna have to park,” said Scott Phillips, committee member. “If they just scatter around town parking, that won’t work. Where the track lies in relation to potentially either parking spaces or a parking deck will matter if we choose that route.”
O’Neill suggested a downtown stop might be more for those treating Matthews as a destination.
“If there were a station in Matthews that was walk-up, I would obviously walk to it if I lived in that area,” O’Neill said. “If I didn’t, I would likely drive to it somewhere else on the line, where I knew there was parking, whether it be in the EMT or CPCC depending on where I’m coming from, and then using that to get to wherever I was going.”
Task force member Lou Abernathy worried that if the Silver Line comes every 10 minutes and isn’t synced up in both directions, that could mean bars go down every five minutes blocking traffic for the train.
Dixon pointed out light rails pass quickly and consist of only two or three cars.
Decisions before the task force at their next few meetings will continue to get more specific.
“The devil is in the details,” Abernathy said. “We need to know how wide the right of away is going to be required, because it will have a big impact on the businesses on the east side of the road. It will also have a financial impact on somebody – CATS or the town. Those are details but they’re important details that relate to the impact of the plan,” O’Neill said. “It’s great to put lines on a map, but if you can’t build it, it’s just a pretty picture.”
Want to learn more?
Protect Matthews Reports, a channel on YouTube, streamed the Silver Line Advisory Committee meeting, as well as other committee meetings in town.