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Republican Convention Will Delay Streetcar Construction, Pushing Opening To 2021

David Boraks
CATS said Monday the streetcar's second phase won't open until 2021, instead of August 2020 as originaly panned.

The Charlotte Area Transit System said Monday that the Republican National Convention in August 2020 at the Spectrum Center will require all streetcar construction to cease for 60 to 90 days, and will likely push the opening of the Gold Line's second phase to early 2021.

CATS hoped to open the second phase of the streetcar in August 2020.

CATS chief executive John Lewis said the Department of Homeland Security recently informed the city that security preparations for the RNC will require work to stop on the extension, which runs on Trade Street in front of the arena. 

"We have received notice from the RNC and with Department of Homeland Security, that as a result of this project being immediately adjacent to, and running through the security zone, that there will be a cessation of construction activity in that construction zone, which will impact this opening date," Lewis told council members.

Lewis said he will ask the Federal Transit Administration for a six-month extension to open the line. He said he expects the FTA to approve the extension.

The first phase of the streetcar opened in 2015, and runs 1.5 miles. The second phase of the Gold Line will extend the line by 2.5 miles, to Johnson C. Smith University to the west and Sunnyside Avenue to the east.

The second phase is projected to cost $150 million, with the federal government giving the city a $75 million grant.

For people who use the streetcar today, there is more bad news.

CATS said it will need to close the streetcar this summer, for six to eight months, to raise the existing platforms by a few inches.

The streetcar today uses green and yellow replica Gomaco trolleys. When the second phase opens in either 2020 or 2021, CATS will use new modern streetcars that resemble the Lynx Bue Line vehicles. To accommodate those new streetcars, Lewis said the platforms need to be higher.

Republican council member Tariq Bokhari was upset about the streetcar news, as well as earlier news this year that the Cross Charlotte Trail was short $77 million to be completed.

"The window is closing on how long we can say these are good news stories," Bokhari said. "We have to get a handle of this."

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.