Charlotte, North Carolina/South Corridor LRT

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South Corridor LRT

Charlotte, North Carolina

(November 2000)

Description

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), in cooperation with the City of Charlotte, is proposing to design and construct an 11-mile light rail transit (LRT) line extending from Uptown Charlotte to the Town of Pineville, North Carolina, near the South Carolina border. The proposed project is currently planned to operate within portions of existing Norfolk-Southern (NS) railroad right-of-way (ROW), including sharing ROW with the city’s existing Downtown Trolley System. The proposed project also includes the construction of 19 stations, purchase of up to twelve light rail vehicles and the construction of a light rail vehicle maintenance and storage facility. Total capital costs for the South Corridor project are estimated at $331 million (escalated dollars).

The South Corridor is an area generally paralleling Interstate-77 along NS railroad ROW in the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. A 3.7-mile portion of the proposed system – between Uptown and Scaleybark Road – would operate on abandoned NS ROW owned by the City of Charlotte. The remainder of the planned system (7.3 miles) would operate on separate tracks generally paralleling NS ROW. Three stations at the southern terminus of the line would include park-and-ride lots and serve as transfer points for local and feeder bus service. An additional station will serve as an intermodal transfer point for feeder buses, while a station at the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown Charlotte will provide connections to the Downtown Trolley and local bus service.

The South Corridor light rail project is expected to serve 15,500 average weekday boardings by 2020, including 11,200 daily new riders.

South Corridor LRT Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Transit Line 11 miles, 19 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $331.10 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $166.80 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $16.90 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 15,500 average weekday boardings;
11,200 daily new riders
FY 2002 Finance Rating: Medium
FY 2002 Project Justification Rating: Medium
FY 2002 Overall Project Rating: Recommended

The Recommended rating is based upon the project’s adequate cost effectiveness and transit-supportive land use as well as the strength of the project’s capital and operating financing plans for this early stage of project development. The overall project rating applies to this Annual Report on New Starts and reflects conditions as of November 2000. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As New Starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.

Status

In 1999, the City of Charlotte completed a Major Investment Study examining transportation and coordinated land use options in the South Corridor between Uptown Charlotte and the Town of Pineville, North Carolina. In February 2000, the Metropolitan Transit Commission (governing board for CATS) selected light rail as the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). The LPA was adopted by the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization’s financially constrained long-range transportation plan in February 2000.

In November of 1998, a local referendum was passed authorizing a dedicated local sales tax of ½ percent for funding transit service in the region. FTA approved the South Corridor project into preliminary engineering in August 2000.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(8) authorizes the Charlotte North-South Corridor Transitway for final design and construction. Through FY 2001, Congress has appropriated $12.84 million in Section 5309 new starts funds for this project.

Evaluation

The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA's Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance into final design and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts. N/A indicates that data are not available for a specific measure.

Justification

The Medium project justification rating reflects the strong mobility improvements and transit-supportive land use policies in place to support the proposed light rail project.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: High

CATS estimates that the South Corridor light rail will result in the following annual travel time savings:

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 5.3 million hours 4.9 million hours

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 5,700 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed 19 stations. This represents approximately 33 percent of the total number of households within ½ mile radius of the proposed stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

The Charlotte area is currently classified as an “attainment” area for both ozone and carbon monoxide. CATS estimates that in the year 2025, the project would result in the following annual changes in emissions.

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) reduction of 1,135 annual tons reduction of 607 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) reduction of 157 annual tons reduction of 84 annual tons
Hydrocarbons (HC) reduction of 101 annual tons reduction of 54 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) No Change No Change
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) reduction of 46,966 annual tons reduction of 25,117 annual tons

CATS estimates that in the year 2025, the project would result in the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units - BTU).

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (million) reduction of 28,070 million BTU reduction of 10,850 million BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

CATS estimates the following costs per passenger mile for the LRT extension and the Coaster station improvements.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (1999) $0.77 $0.88 $0.79

Note: Values reflect 2025 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium

CATS estimates the following cost-effectiveness indices:

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $10.00 $10.30

Note: Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects the strong policies employed by the region to implement transit-supportive land use patterns in the Mecklenburg-Union metropolitan area. The rating also acknowledges the region’s success in effectuating infill development.

Existing Land Use: The predominant land uses along the proposed corridor are commercial, industrial, multi- and single family housing, including lower-density office and institutional uses. The northern termini of the project is the Charlotte Central Business District, which contains 14 million sq. ft. of office space with over 50,000 employees. The Central Business District contains other major trip generators including the Ericsson Stadium, the Charlotte Convention Convention Center, and the North Tryon arts and entertainment district. Additionally, the redevelopment of formerly abandoned industrial sites along South Corridor is underway. Within the corridor, the redevelopment of industrial sites into transit-supportive land uses has produced 600,000 sq. ft. of office and commercial space and 594 residential units, and other large tracts are planned for additional development. The southern portions of the corridor are low-density and auto-oriented with land a mixture of light industrial, commercial, newer multi-family housing, and a large regional retail facility.

Proposed Plans and Policies: The region has proactively supported land use plans and policies that are considered supportive of transit in the adoption of the 2025 Integrated Land Use/Transit Plan. The plan is designed to concentrate growth within a designated transit corridor and promote urban redevelopment in an older section of the City, which might otherwise deteriorate. Additionally, the 2025 Integrated Land Use/Transit Plan contains policies to pedestrian accessibility, and promote station area redevelopment. The Regional Centers and Corridors policy is designed to direct growth to the proposed transit corridors and allow higher densities at transit station sites. Specific station area plans will be developed during the preliminary engineering stage of project development. A number of proposed station areas have had new mixed-use office/commercial projects constructed. In addition, several new projects are under construction while others are proposed for rezoning in the corridor. The market demand is strong in the South Corridor for mixed-use development.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 50%

The financial strategy for the proposed South Corridor LRT assumes $166.8 million (50 percent) of Section 5309 New Starts funds, $82.15 million (25 percent) in State funds and $82.15 million (25 percent) in local funds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium reflects the strong financial condition of the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) and the percentage (50 percent) of non-Section 5309 New Starts funding committed at the local level to the proposed project. However, the capital costs presented have low contingency costs allocated for this early phase of project development.

Agency Financial Condition: CATS is in strong financial condition. The agency receives funding for both capital and operating expenses from the City of Charlotte. CATS is a component of the city government created in 1999 pursuant to an interlocal agreement between the city, Mecklenburg County and the six towns in the county. The city has taxing capacity and acts as an administrator of both Federal and State funds for CATS.

Cost Estimates and Contingencies: The capital cost estimates for the South Corridor LRT include only a 10 percent construction contingency. Given the early stage in project development, the contingency costs should be increased to allow for potential increases in right-of-way costs, vehicle costs, and higher construction costs.

Existing and Committed Funding: At this time, approximately 50 percent ($82.15 million) of the proposed local share has been reasonably committed to the South Corridor LRT through CATS’ dedicated local revenue source. The revenue source (extant sales tax) is considered stable and reliable. State legislative action is required to commit the remaining 50 percent ($82.15 million) of the proposed local share.

New and Proposed Sources: Only existing sources are proposed to fund the construction of the South Corridor light rail project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects CATS’ (a component of the City of Charlotte) healthy operating condition. Revenues to operate the proposed South Corridor light rail project appear to be strong.

Operating Costs and Contingencies: Operating cost estimates appear reasonable for this early stage of development. Project sponsors estimate an annual operating and maintenance costs at $16.9 million (escalated dollars) for the South Corridor light rail project.

Existing and Committed Funding: All of the proposed South Corridor light rail project’s operating funds are existing and considered committed. Funds to support operating expenses are derived from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region’s retail sales tax, farebox revenues, State general appropriations and other [local] sources – e.g., regional service reimbursement program, city’s interest income, etc.

New and Proposed Sources: All proposed operating revenues currently exist. No new sources are proposed.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
($million)
Appropriations to Date
Federal: Section 5309 New Start $166.80 $12.84 million appropriated through FY 2001
State: Transportation Trust Fund $82.15 N/A
Local: City of Charlotte's Dedicated Sales Tax $82.15 N/A
Total $331.10

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

South Corridor Map of 11-mile light rail transit (LRT) line extending from Uptown Charlotte to the Town of Pineville, North Carolina, near the South Carolina border, and includes the construction of 19 stations.