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CATS Gives New Details On 2030 Plan, Including New Rail Along I-277

David Boraks / WFAE

The Charlotte Area Transit System unveiled Wednesday new details about its 2030 transit plan, which includes linking two new light-rail lines through uptown and expanding bus-rapid transit along Interstate 77.CATS has an ambitious plan to spend up to $7 billion building new rail lines, from uptown to Lake Norman; Matthews and the airport. The transit system also said Wednesday it will study extending the Lynx Blue Line from the Interstate 485 station in south Charlotte to Pineville and then to Ballantyne.

But in moving forward with the plan, CATS had several unanswered questions as to how the system would fit together. Wednesday's presentation to the Metropolitan Transit Commission gave more details on the 2030 plan, but it didn't provide more information on how much it would cost.

Related Story: After Six Months, Light Rail To UNC Charlotte Has Fewer Riders Than Projected

CATS had previous plans to build light rail from uptown to Matthews and from uptown to the airport, and then into Gaston County. That project is known as the Silver Line. But it didn't know how to connect those two lines through uptown.

One option was to build a tunnel through uptown, passing under the Lynx Blue Line. But CATS planner Jason Lawrence said there were too many unknowns about tunneling — including the cost.

Instead, CATS plans to bring the Silver Line train along the Brookshire Freeway in the northern section of uptown. The train would follow I-277 in First Ward and then swing to the south, where there would be a stop at the proposed Gateway Station. The station would house the streetcar, local buses, inter-city buses and Amtrak.

The train would then continue along Wilkinson Boulevard to the airport.

CATS has long planned to build a commuter rail line to Lake Norman, using freight rail tracks managed by Norfolk Southern. But the freight railroad has refused to share the tracks, thwarting the project.

CATS had also considered building light-rail in a different corridor but said Wednesday it has abandoned that idea. The new plan is to improve existing express bus service when the Interstate 77 toll lanes open later this year. CATS wants more frequent service on I-77, as well as new park-and-ride stations. Buses don't have to pay to use the toll lanes.

The transit system still wants to build a commuter rail line to Lake Norman and said it will continue to negotiate with Norfolk Southern.

CATS also plans to spend money studying extending the existing Lynx Blue Line from the I-485/South Boulevard station to Carolina Place Mall and then Ballantyne. That's the first time CATS has seriously studied extending the existing Lynx, which opened in 2007.

For the light-rail line to the airport, CATS has considered having part of the train run along Alleghany Street near uptown. The transit system has shelved that plan and will have the west corridor train run entirely alongside Wilkinson Boulevard.

The west corridor train would not run directly to the airport. It would stop on Wilkinson Boulevard, and travelers could take a bus to the terminal. The airport has long-term plans to build a people-mover train from the terminal to Wilkinson Boulevard.

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.