Streetcar Could Open In January; CATS Blames Contractor For Delays

Jul 10, 2020

Map shows CATS plans for rail lines in Charlotte, including the Gold Line, which is under construction.
Credit Charlotte Area Transit System

Charlotte Area Transit System says the $150 million Lynx Gold Line streetcar project remains behind schedule, but service could start in January. CATS blames the contractor for delays that previously pushed back the start from this fall. 

CATS suspended service on the Gold Line a year ago, saying next month's planned Republican National Convention required a six-month delay. With the convention now mostly moved to Florida, officials say the project still won't open until at least January.  

CATS says COVID-19 and recent protests are partly to blame. But officials also now are pointing fingers at the contractor, Johnson Brothers. In a presentation for a June 23 federal budget review meeting, CATS says the contractor is "ineffective in project management, rail installation and bridge construction resulting in poor budgeting, scheduling, construction, and/or quality." 

CATS said nobody was available for an interview. But a spokeswoman said in an email that Johnson Brothers has struggled to meet its own deadlines throughout the project. 

Larken Egleston
Credit City of Charlotte

Larken Egleston, vice chair of the city council transportation committee, said there have been problems.  

"After the project is completed, there will probably be some disagreements about where the blame lies and who is responsible for what, and that might involve a third party having to help iron out who is financially responsible for some of these things," he said Friday.  

A Johnson Brothers spokeswoman declined to comment.  

The first 1.5-mile segment of the Gold Line opened in 2015, with trolley-style streetcars running from uptown to the Elizabeth neighborhood.  Construction is underway on a 2.5-mile extension north to Johnson C. Smith University and south to Sunnyside Avenue. That will add 11 stops and replace trolleys with modern streetcars. 

That's all that's funded for now, but CATS eventually would like to extend the streetcar line along Central Avenue to the site of the former Eastland Mall. 

Delays have included rebuilding the Hawthorne Lane bridge over Independence Boulevard. Work began in 2017, but stopped for nine months last year when the contractor had to reorder beams that were the wrong size. CATS said it hopes the bridge will open next month. 

"There is light at the end of the tunnel," Egleston said. "We are close to hopefully having the bridge back open at Hawthorne and to having a lot of the construction work cleaned up and out of folks' way for the entirety of Phase 2 of the streetcar." 

CATS has already begun some testing of the Siemens streetcars, using the Lynx Blue Line light trail tracks. Testing will move onto the Gold Line tracks later this year, once overhead wires have been fully installed. 

Once regular service begins, streetcars will run the full four miles between 5 a.m. and 2 a.m. daily -- as frequently as every 15 minutes at rush hour. Fares will be $2.20 one way -- the same as the Lynx Blue Line light rail. 

Gold Line Information

More about the Lynx Gold Line on CATS' transit planning website.  

An artist's rendering shows the Lynx Gold Line Johnson & Wales stop on West Trade Street.
Credit Charlotte Area Transit System