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Cuts being considered for Blue Line

Based on recommendations from a financial consultant for the Charlotte Area Transit System, the planned Blue Line light-rail extension may be trimmed to make it more affordable.

On Wednesday, Jeff Parker suggested to the Metropolitan Transit Commission that if CATS could find ways to cut costs to $910 million for the project, slashing 20 percent of the current estimate of $1.12 billion, the project would come closer to staying within CATS’ projected revenue.

Under the current plan, operating and maintenance costs would outgrow CATS’ revenue by 2016, and by 2035 CATS would face a $100 million deficit. With the affordability measures, CATS would be able to pay for the operation and maintenance costs until 2030, after which the costs would deplete CATS’ “target minimum” cash balance of $100 million but not cause a deficit.

The MTC approved for CATS to look at measures to reduce the capital costs of the extension, which may include fewer stations, less streetscaping near stations and shortening the line.

For the Red Line — a commuter-rail that would connect Charlotte with the northern towns of Huntersville, Davidson and Cornelius — CATS still faces $196 million in capital funding costs, 46 percent of the $456 million total. Parker suggested the project may be funded with help from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, particularly if it’s combined with road construction projects such as a widening of Interstate 77.

Parker also suggested that there may be an opportunity to partner with private companies such as Norfolk Southern to share the financial risk of the Red Line project.

The current model provides for CATS to finance 100 percent of the operating costs for the Affordable Blue Line Extension and the Red Line, a model which would lead to a $200 million deficit by 2034. If CATS could find a partner to pay for 75 percent of the operating and maintenance costs, the funding model would be sustainable, Parker said.

Caitlin Coakley can be reached at caitlin.coakley@mecktimes.com.

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