Charlotte City Council in North Carolina has awarded a $50 million contract to engineering firm WSP USA to design the Silver Line light rail project.

WSP USA will be responsible for the preliminary design and environmental work for the rail project.

The 26-mile Silver Line project will connect Belmont to Matthews through uptown Charlotte and Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

One of the major concerns raised about the project is its cost, which is expected to be finalised after 65% of the project design is complete. It is currently estimated that the project may cost between $3 billion and $4 billion and it is yet not clear how this will be financed.

Until now, the majority of Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS)’s Blue Line extension funds came from federal and state grants.

Mayor Vi Lyles said: “If we don’t start, we’ll never get anywhere.

“That’s what this council has talked about for the last two years: jobs, housing, and a way to get there.

“I know this is a large project, but proportionately, I do not think it is the largest project the city has ever had.”

Charlotte City Council has also awarded a $1.2 million contract to Kittelson & Associates for the planning of ‘transit-oriented’ development along the rail line. Kittleson & Associates will be responsible for planning the areas for community conversations on the locations of stations, the impact on housing and the associated development.

In May last year, CATS opened its passenger service on the LYNX Blue Line Extension (BLE).