By Yustin Riopko
The Charlotte Area Transit System is continuing to draft the exact path the LYNX Silver Line will trace through Charlotte from Belmont to Matthews, weighing alignment options and seeking public input.
CATS hosted six virtual meetings between Sept. 15 and 29 to share where they stand on the project and answer questions.
Alignments were defined in 2019 for each focus area of the 26-mile light rail project, called locally preferred alternatives. Now CATS is reconsidering those locally preferred alternatives and seeking more engagement in light of environmental regulations and other concerns.
Senior project manager Andy Mock called this the pre-project development stage.
“Nothing is set in stone,” Mock said. “That’s the point of this process. We’re asking for your input. We feel like some of [the stations] are pretty well laid out, but we definitely are open to public input on stations, configurations and layouts.”
Here’s what we know so far.
The Silver Line will exit uptown along the north side of Independence Boulevard and eventually transition by bridge or tunnel to the south side. That first segment will include stops near Pecan and Commonwealth avenues, before eventually connecting into Bojangles Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium. The rail’s exact path through and past that area has yet to be determined but will eventually come to Idlewild Road along either the north or south side of Independence Boulevard. Details that could influence that section of the Silver Line include redevelopment opportunities, existing businesses and environmental concerns like wetlands and floodplains.
“This is intended to be a federally funded project that will have to go through a very strenuous environmental review,” Mock said. “Anytime you’re impacting the natural environment in this way, there’s a lot of concerns with how that could affect your permitting and your ability to actually deliver the project.”
Following the Silver Line down from Bojangles/Ovens, CATS is also looking to provide a stop just past Eastway Drive and another near Sharon Amity Road.
The next big move is getting from Independence over to Monroe Road. CATS is looking to do this somewhere around Village Lake Drive or the McAlpine Creek area.
Many of the same constraints in the Bojangles/Ovens area apply here too. An at-grade or street-level station would be more accessible, but might have a more serious impact on water resources like streams and wetlands. The right alignment could lead to redevelopment opportunities. Mock also said decisions at this point will affect the Silver Line’s travel time with options ranging a half-mile of track length.
A new concern in this area is the potential need for acquisition of private land and relocation of residences. Mock doesn’t expect that any agents will reach out with property offers for at least three or four years.
“We don’t have a clear understanding on the magnitude of property impacts yet,” Mock said. “We will be minimizing that as much as possible through this process, but inevitably there will be property impacts for any alternative that we’re pursuing at this point. As we begin to understand the project more and really understand the environmental impacts, we’ll be reaching out and working with the community as real estate acquisition becomes more imminent.”
Whatever citizens and planners settle on, the light rail will have hopped over by this point from Independence to align with Monroe Road, where CATS is still deciding whether to follow the street or the nearby CSX freight railroad.
“The working assumption is that we would rebuild Monroe Road,” Mock explained, “widening out on either side and placing light rail into a new median, and that would go along past Sardis Road, through a station near The Galleria.”
The alternative to this would place the light rail alongside CSX.
“This option minimizes the need to reconstruct Monroe Road and provides faster and more reliable trains due to fewer street crossings,” Mock said. “However, it is further from neighborhoods and development opportunities near Monroe Road and it requires an agreement with CSX railroad. This increases complexity.”
Although CATS is considering an extension into Union County, the Silver Line’s southernmost destination at this point is expected to be CPCC’s Levine Campus just past I-485 in Matthews. How the train passes through downtown Matthews to get there is one of the biggest alignment decisions CATS will make.
Whether the train passes through the campus of Novant Matthews hospital or bisects downtown along Matthews street is still up in the air.
Most of CATS’s attention is focused on figuring out a footprint for the rail, but planners have already started brainstorming about stations and other details.
John Howard, project manager for the Silver Line’s transit-oriented development, said successful station planning will look to connect with Gold Line street cars, bus services and pedestrian and cyclist routes wherever possible.
“Ideally, stations want to be mixed use – a variety of uses, not just a single use,” Howard said. “And parking decks are a great place to have different uses on the ground floor via the office or retail. I think being creative about green space around the station areas around the parking decks is a great idea that we’ll dig more into once we start looking at station areas in more detail.”
CATS is also already thinking about where to put park-and-rides, a type of stop senior transit planner Jason Lawrence said has been very successful along other LYNX projects in Charlotte. The stop on Independence Boulevard near Sharon Amity Road is one candidate.
That’s not the only note CATS is taking from past lines. CATS will be conducting internal interviews during October with those who worked on the LYNX Blue Line and Blue Line Extension, a set of light rail projects with a similar scope stretching from UNC Charlotte through center city to South Boulevard near I-485, to hatch ideas about land use, accessibility and urban design.
“We will talk during our area planning discussions with the community about that as well,” Howard said. “What kind of advantages do they see now in existing lines and how can we bring good ideas forward to Silver Line station area planning?”
Lawrence said, “What we’ve learned is that doing [transit-oriented development] planning and rail trail planning at the very earliest phases is critical to delivering a project that meets all the needs we are hearing from our community. We’re doing a lot of stuff very early and we’ve learned and heard from the public that there’s an expectation to deliver something that gets to the issue of equity and very intentionally located stations.”
Want to learn more?
You can go to www.ridetransit.org/lynxsilverline to learn more about the Silver Line’s potential alignments and provide input by Oct. 14.