Tuesday, October 16, 2012

With the sun peeking out from behind UNC Charlotte Center City as the backdrop, University leaders were joined by local, state and federal officials at a ceremony at the Ninth Street Station in uptown Charlotte on Tuesday, Oct. 16, to witness the signing of an agreement to build a light-rail extension from the inner city to the UNC Charlotte campus.

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) officially signed the deal with the federal government to pay for half of the $1.16 billion cost of the project. The 9.2-mile extension will connect uptown to the NoDa arts district and then run along North Tryon Street before it finishes at UNC Charlotte.

“The Blue Line extension offers UNC Charlotte greater connectivity to the city center and greater accessibility for the citizens of the region to the resources of the University,” said Philip L. Dubois, chancellor of UNC Charlotte.  “We believe so fully in the promise of the Blue Line extension that UNC Charlotte supported the granting of the University right-of-way for the campus portion of the line. That right-of-way was valued at $4 million. So, UNC Charlotte – like CATS,  the federal government, the citizens of Mecklenburg County and the State of North Carolina – is deeply and directly invested in this project.”

Federal Transit Administration Director Peter Rogoff formally announced the deal, which calls for the FTA to spend $580 million for the extension. The N.C. Department of Transportation will spend nearly $300 million for construction costs.  CATS, using revenue from a half-cent sales tax for transit, will spend $281 million, or 24 percent.

CATS officials anticipate beginning construction next year. The extension could open as soon as 2017.

“In my role in helping cultivate research and economic development opportunities, I can attest that linking the resources of our main campus with the resources of the center city is viewed as a substantial asset by our current partners and potential partners in business, industry, and social and cultural partners as well,”  said Robert Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development at UNC Charlotte. “And of course, the extension is a major asset in enabling our students to readily interact with the center city and beyond.”

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said the project will generate more than 7,000 jobs during the construction phase and infuse $250 million in payroll into the local economy.

“This is a proud day for our city,” he said. “So today, we are going to spike the football and stake our claim to what we are doing today, but we also have to forge ahead as a community at a time when revenues are short to figure a path forward to continue building on a great vision of our transit system.”