Sep 27, 2022 - Development

Charlotte leaders weigh putting new transit center above or below ground

CTC

A rendering of what the future multimodal hub may look like. Rendering: City of Charlotte

After initially proposing an underground bus center, Charlotte Area Transit System is asking riders whether they want the hub to be rebuilt above or on the ground instead.

But CATS doesn’t have any estimates for what the difference in cost would be, information that will likely be a deciding factor.

  • “We’re very back of the napkin at this point, at the conceptual phase,” CATS CEO John Lewis told city council Monday night. “As we continue with the design we’ll get much more refined costs.”

What’s happening: The existing CTC is three decades old, and quick repairs won’t help it. Lewis says the place would require major renovations and is at the end of its useful life.

  • CATS is partnering with private developers to rebuild the transit center as part of an overhaul of nearly four acres with two mixed-use towers, street-level retail and the Hornets’ $60-million practice facility.

Why it matters: The CTC redevelopment presents an opportunity to reinvigorate the heart of Uptown, where billions of dollars of infrastructure investments intersect, including the Gold Line street car and the Blue Line light rail.

  • But it’s also important to essential workers who rely on transit, and it could improve ridership, especially since one of passengers’ most frequent complaints is weather. From “boiling” hot days to snowy nights, the center is lacking a “basic level of comfort,” as Lewis put it.

Details: Right now CATS’ three proposed options are:

  • Concourse (below grade): Concerns have been raised about equity and air quality if the buses were routed underground and out-of-sight.
  • Terrace (above ground): This would be on the same level as the LYNX Blue Line. A platform would bridge over Third Street, and buses would take ramps upward.
  • Street level: This option would essentially rebuild what exists today, Lewis says.

Timeline: CATS will collect feedback during a series of “pop ups” at the transit center: Oct. 4 4-6pm; Oct. 6 11:30am-1:30pm and 4-6pm; Oct. 18 11:30am-1:30pm and 4-6pm; and Oct. 20 11:30am-1:30pm.

  • It plans to further evaluate the three alternatives, report back to city council and continue designs through 2023.
  • Construction would take place between 2024 and 2028.

Yes, but: There are still a lot of questions about the public-private partnership.

At one point Monday night, council member Ed Driggs expressed concern that all three options included the private developers. He cautioned that the city not ease a company’s path to erecting profitable towers at the expense of the city’s financial interests.

Flashback: After a High Point developer sent an unsolicited proposal for a mixed-use project at the CTC site several years ago, CATS issued a formal request for bids from other prospects. It selected, of three submissions, Charlotte-based White Point Partners, known for Optimist Hall, and Dallas-based Dart Interests.

  • White Point Partners had an edge because its purchased a 1.2-acre parking lot next to the transit center that same year. CATS plans to use the property as a temporary bus hub while construction is happening at the main site, possibly for as long as 36 month.
  • Lewis emphasized it would be difficult to find another location for a temporary bus center. A search across Uptown for a short-term spot to move operations during the Republican National Convention came up short, he recalls.

However, some council members vocalized interest in looking at locations outside of center city, an option Lewis says his agency did not consider because it would contribute to more transfers.

Screenshot: City of Charlotte documents

The cost: A U.S. Department of Transportation document states the estimated cost of the CTC redevelopment is a total of $85.7 million. Design work is expected to cost $18 million, according to city documents. Council approved $2.9 million to kick off designs in August, and the city has secured a $15-million federal grant for the project.

This article was updated to include times for the feedback meetings at CTC. Find more opportunities to give input, including virtual meetings, here.

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