Thursday, May 16, 2013

Charlotte revisits streetcar extension

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Charlotte, N.C.'s City Council is weighing revival of a stalled 2.5-mile streetcar plan, shelved earlier this year after pressure from state-level officials combined with acrimony between the council and Mayor Anthony Foxx.

A new plan would fund a 2.5-mile streetcar extension without tapping property taxes, while also technically removing the project from the city's Capital Investment Plan.

City Manager Ron Carlee has renamed the project the CityLynx Gold Line, linking it by name more closely with the city's existing Lynx light rail Blue Line, run by Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). The Gold LIne would link with the Blue Line at the Charlotte Transportation Center.

Foxx has been nominated by the Obama administration to become Transportation Secretary. Foxx, a strong supporter of the streetcar project, has battled with the City Council on the matter, and clashed with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCroy on the matter as well, with finances issue the predominant source of friction.

Carlee reportedly told the City Council that the potential to land federal funding to pay for 50% of the streetcar extension, similar to expectations advanced by other U.S. cities, could give the project the support it needs. But Charlotte would have to secure $63 million in matching funds.

Charlotte broke ground earlier this year on the initial 1.5-mile, $37 million first phase of the streetcar line, a six-stop line which is utilizing existing right-of-way on Elizabeth Avenue. Federal funding of $25 million is driving that project.The city last November awarded a $26.3 million contract to Atlanta-based Balfour Beatty Rail Inc. and Charlotte-based Blythe Development Co. to develop the firsts segment.  

The initial 1.5-mile segment and the disputed 2.5-mile segment are portions of a planned 10-mile, $500 million streetcar line connecting the east and west sides of Charlotte.