CATS delaying opening of blue line light rail extension - | WBTV Charlotte

CATS delaying opening of blue line light rail extension


For years businesses and residents along the planned blue line extension have been waiting to hear the trains run. They'll have to wait longer.

Officials with Charlotte Area Transit System {CATS} said the 9.3 mile extension won't open in August as they planned. 

"We ran into unforeseen circumstances – soil issues, trying to coordinate over 500 different contractors and sub contractors, and the schedule has been a challenge over the entire construction," CATS Chief Executive Officer John Lewis said.

Lewis said the contractor was supposed to finish constructing the extension by March but they realized at the beginning of this year they won't make the deadline.

Since the March deadline for completing construction won't be met, Lewis said CATS won't have enough time to do its own testing. He said they need five months to test and make sure the extension is functioning safely and properly. That's why the August deadline is being pushed back.

"It's a very complicated project and we have to test every signal, every light, every crossing, every train has to go through thousands of hours of in-service testing" he said. 

"Very disappointed," said Joe Kuhlmann, owner of The Evening Muse. "We’ve seen a downturn with business. We get a lot guests. Parking has always been an issue but it’s only gotten a lot worse since they can’t get here as easily through 36th street. "

Kuhlmann said his listening room music venue has been in the NoDa section of Charlotte since 2001. He says while the construction of the rail station nearby has hurt his business, he and others in the area have been looking forward to the blue line extension.

"There’s a lot of anticipation. Everybody is seeing all the build up and all the construction that’s going on," he said. "Not just with the blue line but also lots of apartments, condos, developments coming into the area. So all of that has been exciting but growing pains can be frustrating, especially when you get delays like this."

CATS said the $1.16B project is $87M under budget and even with the delay, CATS insist the blue line extension will still come in under budget.

A federal agency has set an absolute deadline of March 2018 for the blue line extension to open. CATS officials said they expect to definitely meet it, although they haven't set a new date.

"We’re down to the closing periods of it. We’ve got crews working almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week so there just isn’t more we can do in terms of resources for that," Lewis said. "We’re just out of time and time is a factor we can’t buy back. This is not an issue of resources. It’s an issue of time."

The light rail extension will connect Uptown Charlotte to UNC Charlotte by putting 11 rail stations along the way.

"We were hopeful the rail line would open in August before UNC Charlotte welcomed its 30,000 students back so the delay of the rail certainly impacts our students in our area," said Darlene Heater of University City Partners. "But it’s coming. I think that while they’ll be disappointed, they’re very excited about what they’re seeing and the opportunity that the light rail connection to Uptown and to South Charlotte is going to offer to them."

Heater said businesses are "relocating or locating" in the University City area because of the light rail, and while the delay is disappointing - she doesn't see it as devastating in that section of Charlotte.

"I will say they’re going to benefit because we have tremendous growth happening in University City. It may give them a little bit of grace if they’re running behind schedule to be able to time more accurately the opening of the light rail" Heater said.  

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