Backers of a pedestrian bridge linking uptown and South End aren’t letting the idea die, despite concerns about its cost.
Dilworth residents, South End business leaders and city officials hope to revive a proposal for a pedestrian and bike path over Interstate 277. Such a bridge could cost as much as $3 million, city officials estimate.
“I think it’s the most important project next to the light rail itself,” says John Stamas, president of the Historic South End board. “Anything that can be done to improve the connectivity is something that we applaud.”
Such a bridge was part of the original vision for the south-corridor light-rail line. The bridge was to cross I-277 and terminate at the Charlotte Convention Center.
But the Charlotte Area Transit System scrapped the bridge last year, primarily because of budget constraints. At the time, it was expected to cost $2.5 million.
The decision so disappointed South End and Dilworth residents that the city formed a committee to pursue alternatives.
Thus was created the nine-member Uptown South End Pedestrian/Bicycle Connections Study Committee, which includes representatives from Dilworth, South End, and the city’s engineering and transportation departments.
The committee is working on a report outlining several options for a pedestrian bridge.
Alternatives include establishing a South End-uptown connector at Mint, Church, Tryon or College streets. When the report is completed this summer, the committee may recommend the City Council consider one or more of those options.
“All we know is the solution previously proposed is not going to happen, so now we’re looking at other options,” says Norm Steinman, planning and design division manager for the Charlotte Department of Transportation.
But this key question remains: How will the city pay for the bridge?
In conducting its study, the committee is not attempting to identify a funding source, says Jim Kimbler, a city transportation planner and organizer of the study group.
The city has hired Kansas City, Mo.-based HTNB Corp. for $50,000 to serve as a consultant to the committee and identify engineering components and estimate the cost for each alternative.
The committee also is weighing the possibility of building a park-like area that would cross over I-277, an idea floated years ago. But that alternative — which would be far more expensive than a bridge — is only theoretical at this point.
The committee plans to solicit public comment in a series of open meetings beginning May 15. The initial session will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Government Center uptown.
This particular bridge is not to be confused with a pedestrian bridge being built between South Boulevard and Caldwell Street. That connector, which is part of the reconfiguration of the I-277 interchange at Caldwell Street, is an infrastructure improvement related to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which opens in 2009.
City leaders have long had a goal of establishing a pedestrian- and bike-friendly bridge between South End and uptown, including it in the Charlotte 2010 Vision Plan, notes Michael Smith, president of Charlotte Center City Partners. “This is a mission-critical issue,” he says.
While four potential sites are being explored, the Tryon Street route seems to have the most appeal. It’s centrally located and isn’t encumbered by exit ramps from I-277.
Whichever location is chosen, South End needs a safe path for pedestrians to take to and from uptown, saysGreg Pappanastos, owner of Argos Real Estate Advisors.
“This is one of those issues we really need support on,” says Pappanastos, whose business is based in South End. “Otherwise, these are two areas that forever will be separated by the physical barrier of I-277.”
CATS officials are taking no role in the committee’s study, acknowledging only that eliminating the original bridge was one of several hard choices CATS has had to make to control the steadily rising costs of the south-corridor light-rail line.
The nine-mile line, running from Pineville to uptown, is scheduled to begin service in November.
Possible locations: Crossing I-277 at Mint, Church, Tryon or College streets.
Cost: As much as $3 million
Committee: Includes representatives from Dilworth, South End and the city’s engineering and transportation departments