Fort Mill Times

Carolina tales: No high-speed transportation here? Think again.

Do you ever drive home from Charlotte in the late afternoon, encountering long lines of backed up traffic as you approach Lake Wylie and think, “Why can’t we get high-speed transportation in this area?” Or, do you host visitors from out of town and think about taking them into Charlotte for the sports, concerts, theater or restaurant opportunities, only to reconsider when you think of the traffic hassle?

Interested citizens and leaders of York County looked into our transportation issues on a countywide basis and concluded such high-speed service is years away. Let’s hope they don’t give up. Perhaps they were right as they looked at it on a countywide basis, but let’s encourage county officials to renew their efforts. There are already options – buses, vans, etc. – but on a limited basis.

For those of us in the Lake Wylie area, the future is now.

From the center of Buster Boyd Bridge over Lake Wylie, it’s just 3 miles to a connection to high-speed transportation. That connection is a CATS bus stop at the Carolinas Medical Healthcare System’s Steele Creek facility. Frequent buses take passengers to the LYNX rapid transit stop at the Arrowood Station, where trains will whisk you to uptown Charlotte and city amenities – museums, theaters, restaurants, sports arenas and employment opportunities. We’re at an advantage even over residents of much of Mecklenburg County who have to travel several miles to get to a transit station.

A few years ago, our Lake Wylie dinner group organized an outing to the Greek Isles Restaurant along the Blue Line. Sadly, it is now closed, but we had a great time boarding the Blue Line just off I-485 and riding it to the restaurant on East Boulevard. Keep that in mind if you want to sample the great Greek food in Charlotte at the annual Greek Festival Sept. 8-11 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on East Boulevard. It’s a short walk from the Blue Line to the festival, and you’ll avoid the traffic and parking issues.

The streetcar (part of the transit system) probably shouldn’t be considered “high-speed,” but it’s part of the Charlotte Transit system, and it’s fun. My church in Charlotte sits just beside the current terminus of the streetcar next to Novant Hospital. Last month, a group of us stepped aboard the streetcar in front of the church, rode down to the Halton Theater at Central Piedmont Community College a few blocks away and saw a first-rate production of “Sister Act.” Intense planning is underway to extend the streetcar line, which now ends in Center City Charlotte at the Transit Center. The extended line will move westward toward Johnson C. Smith University. Later it will extend eastward along Independence Boulevard.

In the city, with close access to the Blue Line, are campuses of some universities. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s uptown campus is housed in a high-rise tower on the Blue Line. Wake Forest University and Northeastern University also have a presence in uptown Charlotte, along with several others.

But wait, there’s more to come. About this time next summer, the Blue Line will open its extended service, running all the way from I-485 in the south to the UNC Charlotte campus in the northeast. When that happens, you’ll be able to stop at NoDa with all its entertainment and dining options. Riding a bit farther, you’ll be able to step off the trains onto the campus of UNC Charlotte with its 28,000 students and enjoy educational, cultural and athletic activities. The transit expansion development has the potential to transform our region once again.

The Atlanta Olympics in 1996 might not have been possible without that city’s rapid transit system (MARTA), which serves several adjoining counties. I had the opportunity to attend and help a church youth group enjoy that great event while participating in service projects. (Actually, I joined some other adult volunteers in cooking and feeding the youth in a park in the town of Stone Mountain while also assuring their safety. Several of us slept on a church gym floor.) MARTA, which crosses several adjoining counties, made it possible for us to do our service projects and enjoy the Olympic events.

Ultimately, York and other surrounding counties will want to join Mecklenburg in providing a rapid transit system similar to MARTA for a growing region with expanding educational, employment and entertainment opportunities.

Ken Sanford is a Lake Wylie resident. His interest in railroads and rapid transit grew out of his association with former UNC Charlotte Chancellor E. K. Fretwell Jr., who grew up in New York City and was a fan of rapid transit. Ken has traveled on trains from New London, Conn., to New York City; from Berlin, Germany, to Prague, Czech Republic; from the western Chicago Suburbs into the city; from Stone Mountain into Atlanta on MARTA; from Heathrow Airport into London and around the city on the Tube; and on some of Switzerland’s famous lines. He occasionally takes North Carolina’s Piedmont train from Charlotte to Raleigh to visit relatives.