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Gateway Station gets $25M boost

The U.S. Department of Transportation will provide $25 million for track and safety improvements at uptown’s proposed multi-modal Gateway Station. The funds will be used to remove existing track infrastructure, construct a passenger-freight bridge, and install tracks and signals.

The $25 million was allocated through the federal government’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grant (TIGER) program.

Gateway Station is a $211 million project planned for two blocks on West Trade and Graham streets between Third and Fourth Wards. The station would combine commuter rail, streetcar, taxi, and Amtrak and Greyhound services in a centralized location.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation, which has planned a public-private partnership to complete the station, began acquiring property for the development in 1998 and owns about 27 acres. The complex, which is part of the city’s  2030 transit corridor system plan, also calls for commercial, office and retail space and a 600-vehicle parking deck.

But so far, major parts of the project have lacked funding. The station would be the southern terminus for the proposed 25-mile Lynx Red Line commuter rail linking center city to the Lake Norman area. The $452 million project, which has been in the works for years, initially included plans to operate on tracks owned by Norfolk Southern Group. But the Virginia-based company told the Charlotte Area Transit System in 2012 that it wouldn’t share its freight tracks for a proposed commuter train. CATS said last year it would require more than $200 million to build a parallel set of tracks.

Unlike the Lynx Blue Line light-rail extension that received $580 million in subsidies from Washington, D.C., the Red Line project is ineligible for federal funding because it is a commuter-rail project that doesn’t meet the Federal Transit Administration’s cost-effectiveness criteria.

The $1.2 billion Blue Line expansion, which will not run through Gateway Station, also received a $180 million loan from the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program which allots money for transportation projects of regional significance. The credit provides improved access to capital markets, flexible repayment terms, and potentially more favorable interest rates than can be found in private capital markets. The 9.3-mile light-rail extension, slated for operation in 2017, will run from Ninth Street in center city through NoDa to the UNC Charlotte campus northeast of the city.

It is unclear how Red Line construction will be funded. A Metropolitan Transit Commission subcommittee “is working on developing innovative funding and implementation strategies to advance the Red Line,” said CATS Senior Marketing Representative Krystel Green.

The city’s Lynx Gold Line streetcar system also is slated to run through Gateway Station once phase two of the project is completed. Construction on the $126 million second phase is scheduled to begin in 2017. But that hinges on receiving approval of a $63 million grant application to the FTA’s Small Starts Project Development program. The city is responsible for paying the remainder, with plans to tap into existing debt capacity and the General Capital Investment fund.

Still, the $25 million Gateway Station grant obtained by the N.C. DOT is a breakthrough in achieving the long-envisioned transit hub. Gov. Pat McCrory said in a press release that the station was an important recruiting tool in attracting Johnson & Wales University to Charlotte and the subsequent revitalization of the Trade Street corridor.

“This is a significant step forward for better connections and more transportation choices for our workforce,” McCrory said. “We know companies want to locate where it’s easy to move people and products and where their employees can enjoy a greater quality of life, which includes access to transit.”

Alma Adams, who represents North Carolina’s 12th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, agrees. She met with the Charlotte City Council last November to discuss transportation grants and projects and has advocated for the same with U.S. DOT Secretary, and former Charlotte mayor, Anthony Foxx.

“Twenty-five million dollars for the Charlotte Gateway Station is a major win,” Adams said in a written statement. “Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation and it’s imperative that we continue to improve and expand city transit to accommodate growth.  I remain committed to working with federal and local leaders to secure additional federal investments like this one.”

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