2016 Outstanding Project of the Year Nominee – Little Sugar Creek Greenway/US 74 Connectivity Study, Cross-Charlotte Trail (XCLT) Connector
The City of Charlotte has made a concerted effort to provide transportation choices for the community, including successes such as the implementation of the first light rail and bike share systems in the state and a trail and complete street network that is used for both recreation and commuting. Building on those successes, the City is now addressing critical missing links in the greenway system to maximize its potential as a viable part of the overall transportation system for the City. This project will eliminate one such major missing link. The Cross Charlotte Trail (XCLT) will be a 26-mile seamless trail facility that will ultimately connect one end of the City to the other.
The City of Charlotte and its partners, including Mecklenburg County, have studied a trail connection to close a challenging gap between existing segments of the XCLT as it approaches the interchange of Interstate 277 and US Highway 74/Independence Boulevard, a major gateway to Charlotte’s Center City (also referred to as “Uptown”). This project, “the XCLT Connector,” will cross this interchange with a regionally significant pedestrian/bicycle bridge and trail, closing the gap between two disconnected segments of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
Approximately 7.5 miles of the planned 26 miles of the XCLT greenway have already been built. Additional segments are being completed over the next several years by the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The project that is the subject of this study will connect two existing segments of the XCLT via a greenway underpass under 7th Street, a bicycle/pedestrian bridge spanning the highway interchange, and greenway segment continuing north to 10th Street, thus closing the quarter-mile gap and creating a continuous active transportation (bicycle and pedestrian) corridor across Charlotte’s city center.
The City and its partners have articulated a shared desire to have signature/iconic bridge and design elements incorporated into the connector. The idea that a signature pedestrian bridge would be a high quality experience for the user, create recognition and a placemaking component of XCLT, and capture the imagination of people as they passed by on the highway or traversed its innovative design is critical to the success of the project. The team also developed an interim connector solution that repurposed a portion of the bridge deck on Central Avenue into a separated protected bike lane to facilitate a connection that could be made immediately to allow time to assemble funding for the bridge.
The XCLT Connector will utilize innovative technology and approaches to deliver the project and achieve the long-term project objectives and to enhance the operational performance and user experience of the project. These innovations could include the following:
- Visually appealing bridge with a structurally efficient, state of the art design;
- Automated bicycle and pedestrian counters to measure trail usage;
- Expansion of the bike share system to more locations along the Cross Charlotte Trail;
- Low maintenance materials for the boardwalk system under 7th Street so little to no future maintenance cost is expected;
- Minimally invasive construction approaches that will streamline additional coordination with NCDOT as the existing bridge structure will only require minor reconstruction of the existing slope protection;
- High-performance materials, such as high-density polyethylene or low-maintenance metal, to reduce maintenance requirements of the proposed bridge and extend the design life past the 75 years;
- Bridge enhancements with low-energy programmable LED lighting; and,
- Cable cranes and cantilevered erection techniques to facilitate construction activities over traffic lanes.
By closing this critical gap in the XCLT greenway, the XCLT Connector eliminates safety and access barriers (both physical and psychological); and connects the historically disadvantaged neighborhoods of Belmont, Villa Heights, Optimist Park and HOPE VI-funded projects (Seigle Point Apartments, the Vistas @707, and McAden Park Apartments) with Center City Charlotte. This will improve opportunities for employment, job training, and increased access to Charlotte’s growing transit system.
The project also connects to educational institutions (University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNCC), Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), and local schools); hospitals and employment centers; Charlotte Area Transit (CATS) bus, light rail and streetcar systems; major parks; and Charlotte’s bike-share system.
Completing this connection will also provide bicyclists and pedestrians a car-free crossing of the 7th Street/ Central Ave intersection and safer crossings and alternatives to the arterial streets that surround the intersection: 7th Street, Central Avenue, 10th Street and McDowell Street. These roads and the highway interchange currently form major barriers to active transportation to-and-from Uptown Charlotte and surrounding destinations. This project will eliminate these significant barriers and will offer an opportunity to re-stitch neighborhoods and communities severed by freeway construction in the 1960s and 1970s. By closing this gap, the XCLT Connector project is providing a continuous, active-transportation link to the two major economic centers in the region: Uptown Charlotte and the UNCC area (known as University City, it is the second largest job center in the region, located only 10 miles northeast of Uptown Charlotte).
The City of Charlotte is partnering with Mecklenburg County to create a 26-mile bike/ pedestrian trail known as the Cross Charlotte Trail (XCLT), a facility that will stretch from the York County, South Carolina, border, through Charlotte’s central business district and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNCC) campus to the Cabarrus County line. Once completed, residents will be able to travel seamlessly on a bicycle and pedestrian trail that is completely separated from automobile traffic. The XCLT alignment also serves as the central spine of the regional Carolina Thread Trail network — a regional initiative to connect the surrounding 15-county area with a trail network.
Approximately 98,000 jobs and 80,000 residents reside within a half-mile of the proposed XCLT. The project is funded by the City of Charlotte ($35M investment) and Mecklenburg County ($53M).
The XCLT is a locally-led effort to create a regionally significant active transportation corridor that will help alleviate growing transportation, health, and environmental challenges in Charlotte’s urban core and suburban periphery. This project will provide regional residents, employees, students, and visitors options to replace motor vehicle trips with walking, bicycling, and transit trips, thus reducing congestion on area roads, leading to improvements. When completed this connector will be an example of connectivity both physically and socially, that can be replicated around the country.