|Transit Update on the West/Airport Corridor
CEMT is in agreement with consultants working on the Center City Plan 2010 that light rail should link the new Multi-Modal Transportation Center with the airport. Our analysis shows light rail could be linked not only with the new center on West Trade Street, but to the existing local transit center on East Trade Street. That center will see vintage trolley service by late 2001, and perhaps South Corridor light rail service by 2006. The West Trade MMC will handle Amtrak, inter-city bus, and perhaps regional/commuter rail service in future years.
As mentioned in previous corridor articles the East Trade Transit Center would be linked to the West Trade Street Multi-Modal Center by new light rail/trolley tracks connecting the South Corridor line at 9th Street. The new line would run west at grade, or depressed through the Hal Marshall Center parking lot and 10th Street to Smith Street. At that point the line would turn south on Smith Street and parallel the Norfolk Southern Railway right of way to the new MMC.
The advantage of running light rail through the new MMC is all inter-city , regional, and local transit/transportation modes can all meet a one common terminal. Transfers to the East Trade Transit Center can also being handled there as well. Success of public transportation depends greatly on connectivity to other complementary modes.
CEMT sees the alignment of light rail to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport following the Norfolk Southern Railway tracks between the MMC and I-77. The line would be on the east side of the
existing railroad tracks providing a stop at Erickson Stadium just south of the MMC. Just north of Summit Avenue the light rail line would be depressed to go underneath Summit Avenue and then cross under the Norfolk Southern tracks to end up on the west/north side of the railroad at I-77.
At I-77 the light rail line would cross the freeway at a slightly lower level that the existing Norfolk Southern Railway line. Even at the lower level there would still be ample clearance for freeway traffic below.
From I-77 to the airport the light rail alignment appears to be best suited for the Wilkinson Blvd. corridor, not close alongside the NS mainline which will see expanded capacity for freight movements in the years to come. There are also numerous industrial sidings which would make blending of the two services a more expensive and cumbersome option. Running along Wilkinson Blvd. light rail offers a significant catalyst for new residential, business, and office development.
Perhaps the best option for running light rail on Wilkinson Blvd. Would be in the center median similar to the east end of Portland's line rail line to Gresham. Signal pre-emption and crossing gates where needed would speed service along the line. There is also the option of depressing portions of the line to increase travel time in areas where little or no development is expected or desired. Running next to street traffic at grade would limit light rail speed to 45 mph, but in areas adequately separated for pedestrian and auto traffic speeds could reach 65 mph.At the Mulberry Church Road/Boyer Street intersection the light rail line would break off and follow the Boyer Street road right of way westward. This would facilitate depressing Boyer Street in addition to the light rail line eliminating the at grade intersection of Billy Graham Parkway ( US 521 ) and Boyer Street. From Billy Graham Parkway to the Josh Birmingham Expressway the light rail line would utilize or parallel the existing Old Dowd Road right of way. The road is lightly used and provides very few connections to business or industry.
Reaching the Josh Birmingham Expressway the light rail would bend south and pass over the Norfolk Southern Railway mainline entering the airport terminal. The terminal stop could be jointly developed and funded by the airport and transit authority similar to the recent expansion of Portland's light rail into the Portland International Airport. In Portland a third party joined in the venture to develop land near the airport for office and business use. The land along Old Dowd Road could be the basis for similar venture here.
Expansion of light rail further west would run into heavy freight interference if along the Norfolk Southern mainline. Perhaps at a future date the line could be extended west of the airport to a large park and ride facility along I-485.
As for serving commuters in Gaston County, CEMT envisions utilization of the old Piedmont and Northern right of way owned by the North Carolina Department of Transportation as the best option. The line would link Gastonia with Mount Holly and Charlotte. Service similar to Florida's Tri-Rail System in the Miami area could be instituted linking or running through with service from the Lake Norman/Statesville area.
Light rail is the preferred local transit option for the Airport Corridor due to several factors. Light rail will attract more riders than bus options, will encourage higher quality corridor development, and will be friendlier to the environment. The transit option chosen to move people between our air transportation hub and the center city demands that it be lasting reminder to all that visit our area that Charlotte runs a first class transit system, and doesn't settle for second best!