The board that oversees Charlotte Area Transit System has given formal approval to a revised 2030 System Plan, including a rail line to the airport.
The vote on CATS' long-range plan came at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transit Commission Wednesday night. It includes a proposal to build light rail from Matthews to uptown to the airport and Belmont, in Gaston County.
The Silver Line, as it would be called, would run along the Brookshire Freeway in uptown, instead of through a tunnel under center city, as called for in previous versions of the plan. CATS had said the tunnel was too complicated and costly.
A citizen group, Sustain Charlotte, had called on CATS not to abandon the tunnel entirely, but instead to proceed with engineering studies. The group says the new alignment through the northern end of uptown would limit pedestrian access to uptown and could lead to lower ridership than a tunnel. "Further analysis would help to clarify some of the 'unknowns,' including the complexities of the tunnel option," the group said in a letter to CATS.
At least for now, the tunnel isn't an option.
The new plan also abandons, for now, a proposal to build a rail line to Lake Norman. Instead, CATS would expand bus service to that area when the I-77 toll lanes open later this year. The plan also calls for several new park-and-ride lots in the area. But, said CATS, a commuter rail line remains the "long-term, locally preferred alternative."
And the new plan would study how to extend the Blue Line to Pineville and Ballantyne.
“Citizens have affirmed how important transit is to the community and to the growth of the Charlotte region,” CATS CEO John Lewis said in a statement after the vote. “The MTC’s affirmation continues to fulfill the transit vision established decades ago allowing the region to move forward with a transit plan that addresses today’s and tomorrow’s landscape,” he said.
There's still the question of how to pay for the plan, which Lewis has said could cost between $6 billion and $8 billion. Lewis said the existing half-cent sales tax for mass transit voters approved in 1998 would not be enough to pay for the expansion, and that additional local revenue would be needed.