2012 Review: Big gains for transportation network

Nov 16, 2013 | Economic Development

As the region’s second largest employment hub and one of its fastest growing areas, University City merits a full complement of transportation options. Luckily, announcements, plans and project completions in 2012 are paving the way for even greater accessibility. Better yet, they include not just transit and roads but also bike lanes, sidewalks and greenways.

PLENTY OF GOOD NEWS FOR BLUE LINE EXTENSION

There was a steady stream of good news about the Blue Line Extension (BLE), making way for an early 2017 opening. The state funding agreement, a 50- year lease with North Carolina Railroad and Norfolk Southern and approval of engineering documents were announced in quick succession. In mid October, the official nod came from the Federal Transit Administration that the rail line to University City had received their coveted Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA). That sets in motion moving utilities, acquiring land and designing the two parking decks along North Tryon. Construction will bring changes and some pain. For example, the current home to Panda Express and Nona’s Sweets will be demolished and the future rail bridge over Harris Blvd. caused McDonald’s to put a top hat on their location so it could be seen. Along the existing LYNX line that opened five years ago, a host of additional new projects are just now being built, so changes will probably arrive at a similar pace in University City.

I-485 COMPLETION BY LATE 2014
The announcement concerning the rail extension onto UNC Charlotte’s campus was the biggest transportation story but by no means the only one. University City’s missing piece in the I-485 beltway between I-85 and I-77 will open in late 2014. The cutting-edge design and accelerated construction schedule mean that gap will at long last be plugged.

URBAN STREET GRID EMERGING
The University City Partners- funded “Urban Boulevard Study” along North Tryon identified the need for a more robust road network. The 2011 completion of the 29/49 weave brought miles of new bike lanes and sidewalks to an area starved for them. Now as IKEA Blvd is readying to punch through to McCullough and new linkages are opening over to North Tryon, more bike lanes and sidewalks will be added. CDOT has focused much effort in its study of Harris Blvd on the stretch between North Tryon and Mallard Creek road, addressing what can be added to that busy connector to allow transportation options. Sadly, the flyover that might have been in a 2012 bond package is still waiting to be built, although engineering is done. One can only hope a similar flyover linking Oasis Temple to Louis Rose Place might some day be designed and funded and that much needed corridor improvements for the rail line can be implemented.

GREENWAY STUDIES, IMPROVEMENTS
Speaking of gaps, UCP is also funding a greenway study to look at how to bring the missing part of greenway inside the University Research Park into the official greenway system, now that the land is back in local ownership. Meanwhile Mecklenburg Park and Rec is planning the next phase of Toby Creek greenway that stretches into neighborhoods south of 49 and looking at how Barton Creek Greenway can link Mallard Creek Greenway with University Place and the JW Clay transit stop.

2 AIRPORTS GROWING, TOO
No we didn’t forget planes, nor has the FAA, which has funded $5.5 million in improvements at Concord Regional Airport. Our other lifeline, Charlotte Douglas International airport, brings a steady stream of upgrades from new runways to plans for an intermodal facility. Both airports are just 10 and 20 minutes away respectively, adding to our transportation choices.

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