CHARLOTTE — It has been a long time coming after years of missed deadlines, but as of Monday morning, Charlotte’s streetcar was officially open.
Channel 9 crews were there as the first riders were allowed on at 5 a.m. at the stop along Hawthorne Lane.
Officials said last week that the streetcar would be open by Monday and that fares will be free until January. The project needed to open by Aug. 31 for the city to avoid suffering financial penalties.
The streetcar will operate every 20 minutes from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, from Plaza Midwood to Johnson C. Smith University.
From Aug. 26 to 29, CATS had been testing streetcars on the alignment from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. to simulate passenger service.
The Phase 2 project extended the existing streetcar tracks by 2.5 miles on the east and west ends of the line, connecting the Historic West End to the Elizabeth neighborhood through uptown Charlotte.
There will be a fleet of five modern streetcar vehicles.
The streetcars, designed with Siemens hybrid technology, will operate off-wire through the heart of uptown, maintaining a catenary-free zone.
CATS is urging those who drive, walk, bike or live near the streetcar alignment to become familiar with the rules of streetcar safety.
If you’re out and about in uptown, you’ll see the new streetcar vehicles cruising through town.
The federal grant that paved the way for construction required that the project be open for passengers by the end of the month. Councilman Larken Egleston, who represents part of the project area, promised that it would happen.
“We will have passenger service up and running next week,” he said last week. “I am very glad that there is a light at the end of the tunnel on this one.”
This $150 million project has faced complaints and controversies from conception.
Construction on the Hawthorne Lane Bridge was supposed to take 12 to 18 months but took 2 ½ years. Opening dates for the bridge were projected to be in the summer of 2020, February 2021, late April and then early May. Those dates were missed.
Egleston described the bridge project as a “constant source of frustration at times.”
“Sometimes you kind of had to laugh to keep from crying. There have been a lot of mistakes,” he said. “I think that this (streetcar) is going to be a great project. I think people are going to love it once it’s up and running next week. But we did things in a way that could have been better.”
Egleston is promising a postmortem analysis before the city commits to expanding the line farther. The city hopes to extend the line down the Beatties Ford corridor and out to Eastland. Once the current phase is finished, the streetcar will run from Metro 808 in Plaza Midwood to just beyond Johnson C. Smith University.
According to CATS, the final items that need to be finished include sidewalk work, completion of hand rails, ramps and platforms and minor roadway work.
(WATCH BELOW: The future of embattled streetcar project)
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