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Amid fanfare, City Council approves divisive $126 million streetcar extension

CHARLOTTE – The packed, sign-waving crowd of supporters gave a standing ovation to Charlotte Mayor and U.S. Secretary of Transportation designate Anthony Foxx’s surprise entrance. They stood and cheered again when Foxx’s pet streetcar proposal won the night.

A look up Elizabeth Avenue at the streetcar tracks. Mecklenburg Times file photo.

Many months of divisive arguments in the meeting chamber, public letter-writing and media editorializing came to an end Tuesday when Charlotte City Council voted to approve the $126 million Phase 2 expansion of the recently-rebranded CityLynx Gold Line, popularly known as the streetcar.

Outgoing Mayor Foxx, appointed by President Obama to the cabinet but not yet approved by the U.S. Senate, has long been a supporter of the streetcar, on which construction is already underway along Elizabeth Avenue between Hawthorne Lane and Kings Drive. Foxx previously failed to rouse majority support from the council because some of the extension money would have been pulled from the city’s property tax fund.

But under new City Manager Ron Carlee’s plan, none of the money will come from property taxes, and the council approved the extension in a 7-4 vote.

Council members who voted yes and more than a dozen public speakers averred the Gold Line would spur much needed future development along the city’s east-west corridors, which have been left out of the benefits to other parts of town from the existing and still-expanding north-south Blue Line. The Red Line, which also runs north-south, is still under discussion.

The council’s Gold Line extension opponents, who had no visible or audible support from the gallery, expressed concern that the city manager’s construction-financing plan would empty the city coffers of emergency and discretionary funds.

Under Carlee’s approved plan, the city will ask for Federal Transit Administration grants, Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery grants, and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans, which will cover 50 percent of Phase 2. The other half of the money would come from unobligated balances in both the city’s Pay-As-You-Go budget and Debt Service Fund budget, according to a memo from Carlee to the Council dated May 13. The completion of Phase 2, even though it was approved, is dependent on receiving federal money, the memo said.

Phase 2 of the Gold Line will extend Phase 1 streetcar line by 2.5 miles, creating 4 miles of total track. The extension will be two miles west from the Charlotte Transportation Center to French Street and 0.5 miles from Elizabeth Avenue to Sunnyside Avenue.

The construction cost for Phase 1 of the project is about $37 million, of which $12 million comes from city funds. The memo also says that 30 percent of the engineering work for Phase 2 already has been done.

Council members John Autry, Patrick Cannon, David Howard, Patsy Kinsey, LaWana Mayfield, James Mitchell and Beth Pickering voted yes on the extension. Michael Barnes, Warren Cooksey, Andy Dulin and Claire Fallon were opposed.

Mecklenburg Times staff writer Tony Brown contributed to his report.

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