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CATS proposes big change for Silver Line route through uptown

City of Charlotte
The current proposed path for the Silver Line is in dark purple and light purple. CATS said it may instead have the train make a sharp turn so it can share rail tracks with the Lynx Blue Line. That route is down in red.

The Charlotte Area Transit System said Monday it may make significant changes to the planned Silver Line, which would run from Matthews to the airport.

The new proposal would have the Silver Line share rail tracks with the Lynx Blue Line through uptown, bringing riders into the heart of uptown. CATS said the new route would be less expensive and would likely carry more passengers.

The Silver Line’s proposed route today would miss the heart of uptown. It would follow Interstate 277 to the north of center city, bypassing most of the city’s office towers. It would stop at the planned Gateway transit station near Truist Field, and then continue west to the airport along Wilkinson Boulevard.

But earlier this year a consultant, the Urban Land Institute, said there is a better way.
It proposed having the Silver Line enter uptown through First Ward, and then make a sharp turn to the west, where it would share the existing rail tracks with the Blue Line. That would bring passengers directly into uptown.

Andrew Mock, a senior project manager for the Silver Line, said the new segment of the Silver Line would cost $4.4 billion — compared to $5.4 billion if it looped around uptown.

“There would be significant cost savings and an increase in ridership so a pretty good alternative to further evaluate certainly,” he told the City Council’s transportation committee.

The earlier alignment would pass by more residences. But CATS chief executive John Lewis said it’s more important for the train to go where people work.

“Given the choice, we’d rather have more employment opportunities, and we can offset that with the lower number of households,” he said.

When the city was planning the Silver Line earlier, some officials — including former planning director Taiwo Jaiyoeba — wanted to use the line for economic development to jump-start empty areas of uptown.

Jaiyoeba is now the city manager in Greensboro. And the current view at CATS is to see the light rail line as primarily about transportation.

CATS said it will spend this summer and fall reviewing the new alignment. It said it plans to hold a public hearing in October.

If CATS changed the line, one other significant change is that the Silver Line would no longer be a seamless ride from Matthews to the airport.

The first segment would run from Matthews to uptown, likely ending at the Carson Station in South End.

Then a second segment would start at the airport and then run east along Wilkinson Boulevard. It would either stop at the Gateway Station or continue to Trade and Tryon Street on the existing Gold Line streetcar tracks. That would require some of the Gold Line stations to be rebuilt to allow for long trains.

Mock said they believe only 6% of Silver Line passengers would want to go from one end of the line to the other. Almost all passengers would start or end their journey in uptown.

It’s far from certain the Silver Line will be built. The city of Charlotte needs voters to approve a penny increase to the sales tax. Before that goes on the ballot, the General Assembly in Raleigh and Mecklenburg Commission also must vote to allow it.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.