CHARLOTTE – The contentious streetcar project, which Mayor Patrick Cannon said has now been in front of four mayors, last night got a boost when the City Council approved spending $12 million to advance the design of the $126 million second phase in order to stand a better chance at securing grants necessary to finish that phase.
The council voted 8-3 in support of the project, with Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes, District 6 Councilman Kenny Smith and District 7 Councilman Ed Driggs voting against spending the money on the streetcar, also known as the CityLynx Gold Line project.
The $12 million will fund contracts with consultants to advance the engineering and design of the second phase of the CityLynx Gold Line project as well as the costs associated with submitting a Small Starts grant application to the Federal Transit Administration, according to the city’s website. To have a better chance to win a Small Starts grant, the city needs to do further work on the Phase 2 plan.
David McDonald, planning manager with the Charlotte Area Transit System, said the goal is to advance the design of the second phase to 65 percent complete before applying for the federal Small Starts money in September.
The second phase of the streetcar would add 2.5 miles of track to the 1.5-mile first phase, which will run along Elizabeth Avenue and Trade Street from Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center to the Charlotte Transportation Center. Phase 2 would extend the streetcar two miles west to French Street, close to Johnson C. Smith University, and half a mile east to Sunnyside Avenue in the Elizabeth neighborhood. The first phase is fully funded and under construction.
The Smalls Starts program provides grants for new and expanded rail, bus rapid transit and ferry systems that reflect local priorities to improve transportation options in key corridors, according to the FTA’s website. The grants are available to projects that expand capacity by at least 10 percent in existing fixed transit corridors that are already at or above capacity or are expected to be within five years.
The city was rejected in September when it tried to secure federal money for the streetcar through a TIGER grant, which stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. The city plans to reapply this year for TIGER money.
But there have been previous hurdles for the $126 million project.
Under former City Manager Kurt Walton’s 2012 Capital Investment Plan, the city’s portion of the Gold Line cost would have come partially from a hike in property taxes. That proposal caused the council to balk at the whole of Walton’s plan at a meeting in June 2012. The plan was later adopted without any streetcar money.
In May 2013, the council adopted new City Manager Ron Carlee’s streetcar plan, which required no property tax increase and wouldn’t pull any money from the city’s general property tax fund. Charlotte’s $63 million portion is to come from unallocated money in the city’s Pay-As-You-Go and the Debt Service funds, which come from property taxes but are used for capital improvement projects. The other half of the Phase 2 money is expected to come from the federal grants.
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