CATS releases new details on the Silver Line’s path through Charlotte
Brittany Clampitt
Brittany.Clampitt@ci.charlotte.nc.us
2/2/2021
Silver Line Update

Grounded in community feedback, preliminary recommendations show how the light rail will interact with current and future infrastructure and development.

Charlotte Area Transit System staff presented to the city's Transportation, Planning & Environment Committee on Jan. 25 preliminary recommendations for refining the LYNX Silver Line's path through the city. The recommendations move the project forward -- from a vision for the line's general corridor, known as the locally preferred alternative or LPA, to a more specific alignment, known as the refined LPA. The refined LPA traces how the line will be specifically placed along streets, around intersections and interchanges, and through neighborhoods. 

"Really the goal of this phase...is to really refine the LPA, or the fat Sharpie line, down to, specifically, what project are we going to pursue before we enter into the more detailed engineering and environmental phase," said Andy Mock, CATS' project manager for the Silver Line. 

The recommendations come after CATS received public input in the fall of 2020 on preferred paths for the light rail line and evaluated impacts of more than 100 alignment options.

"Our goal is to get down to one, single alignment that meets not only the mobility needs of our community but also the broader city policy to help support affordable housing and encourage economic development," said CATS CEO John Lewis.

The alignment aims to achieve reliable travel time, promote equitable transit-oriented development, and improve mobility and access to destinations, while being cost-effective and an asset to the surrounding environment. It also minimizes risks, including dependency on other projects and third parties, capital and operating costs, and environmental impacts.

At 26 miles long, the Silver Line will be nearly three times longer than the 9-mile LYNX Blue Line. To make it easier to discuss the needs and specifications of the line with the public, city staff has segmented the line into six focus areas, based on geography. The Jan. 25 preliminary recommendations honed in on the four focus areas that fall within the Charlotte city limits, and some specific alignment adjustments within those focus areas. 

Preliminary Staff Recommendation for Focus Area 2: Wilkinson Boulevard from I-485 to West Morehead Street

For the portion of Wilkinson Boulevard just north of the airport, from I-485 to Billy Graham Parkway, CATS staff recommends running the Silver Line along the north side of Wilkinson Boulevard. This will ensure the line can serve the Charlotte Douglas International Airport's vision for developing the area as a hub for hotels and conference centers, with light rail as a major connector and mover of people. The timeline for implementing this vision may be delayed because of budget impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, but moving forward with the recommended alignment will help ensure transit supports future mobility needs during and after pandemic recovery.

At Wilkinson Boulevard, from Morris Field Drive to Center City, CATS staff has recommended running the Silver Line adjacent to the Norfolk Southern railroad, just south of and parallel to Wilkinson Boulevard. By remaining outside this portion of the Wilkinson Boulevard right of way, the city can lessen costs and avoid dramatic real estate, business and community impacts that could result from doubling the width of Wilkinson and making it harder to cross the street. 

Preliminary Staff Recommendation for Focus Area 3: Center City (West Morehead Street to Charlottetown Avenue)

To maneuver around the Interstate 277 and Interstate 77 interchange west of Uptown, CATS is recommending the Silver Line continue to run adjacent to the Norfolk Southern railroad, south of the interchange, with stops at Suttle Avenue and West Morehead Street. Placing the Silver Line on the south side creates a more direct route to Center City and allows for greater access to Bank of America Stadium and development in the Gateway District area.

Additionally, it avoids issues that could arise from placing the line on the north side. A 2019 recommendation placed the Silver Line north of the interchange, but studies have since found potential parkland, historic property and floodplain impacts that could affect the project, and worsen the effects of flooding and other issues for the more northern neighborhoods.

In Uptown, the Silver Line will meet the Blue Line at 11th Street, a key point of connection for the two rapid transit lines. This mobility hub will help passengers easily transfer between lines, minimize impacts to roadway traffic, improve train reliability, allow access to the local maintenance facility and a single fleet of trains to serve both lines.

Preliminary Staff Recommendation for Focus Area 4: Independence Boulevard from Charlottetown Avenue to Idlewild Road

In Focus Area 4, which spans from Center City along Independence Boulevard, CATS updated the light rail alignment near Briar Creek Road and the Bojangles Entertainment Complex, and between Eastway Drive and Albemarle Road.

CATS staff is recommending the Silver Line cross Independence Boulevard near Briar Creek Road to run through the Bojangles Entertainment Complex. A light rail station is planned for the complex. This will support potential development opportunities and events in the area, ensuring people can reach their key destinations. It will also serve nearby Monroe Road. Additionally, the original alignment had a large curve near Briar Creek Road. CATS' recommended update softens the curve to better operate a train along it.

From there, the Silver Line will run parallel to Independence Boulevard, on its southern side and behind commercial properties. This closely mirrors the originally adopted alignment plan and reduces impacts to the floodplain.... CATS, the Charlotte Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of Transportation continue to explore how the Silver Line will pass through interchanges with Albemarle Road, Sharon Amity Road, Idlewild Road and Conference Drive. 

Preliminary Staff Recommendation for Focus Group 5: Independence Boulevard to Matthews

Focus Area 5 is one of the more complex focus areas of the Silver Line's 26 miles because of the transition from Independence Boulevard to Monroe Road.

The recommendation closely follows the original alignment plan, while ensuring the line serves the residential community near Village Lake Drive with a new station. CATS staff anticipates some residential displacement in this part of the alignment, but also opportunities to promote affordable housing and mitigate displacement in partnership with the city's Housing & Neighborhood Service Department. Staff studied multiple alignment options in this area, but found a number of drawbacks, ranging from residential displacement to environmental concerns, or the inability to leverage and support current and future development. Therefore, staff determined the most viable path forward is to mirror the original alignment. 

From there the Silver Line follows Monroe Road to the town of Matthews. In its update, CATS staff is recommending an alignment along Matthews Street to directly serve downtown Matthews.

Next steps and community engagement

CATS will hold a virtual public meeting for each focus area to discuss the recommended updates to the Silver Line's alignment. Residents can access each public meeting at ridetransit.org or the Gov Channel beginning at 5:30 p.m. on the meeting's scheduled day. Meetings will remain available online for anyone unable to watch in real time.

Tuesday, Feb. 16

Focus Area 1: Wilkinson Boulevard from the city of Belmont to I-485

Wednesday, Feb. 17

Focus Area 2: Wilkinson Boulevard from I-485 to West Morehead Street

Thursday, Feb. 18

Focus Area 3: Center City (West Morehead Street to Charlottetown Avenue)

Tuesday, Feb. 23

Focus Area 4: Independence Boulevard from Charlottetown Avenue to Idlewild Road

Thursday, Feb. 25

Focus Area 5: Independence Boulevard from Idlewild Road to the Levine Campus of Central Piedmont Community College

Tuesday, March 2

Focus Area 6: Union County Extension

The next decision-making step in the Silver Line process is a vote by the Metropolitan Transit Commission to adopt the refinement plan. Meanwhile, the alignment will begin to inform the project's planning, engineering and environmental impact work.

More information about the LYNX Silver Line is available on ridetransit.org.