Streetcar has new momentum after council approval
by Herbert L. White
Charlotte’s proposed streetcar extension is moving forward after a change of heart by City Council.
Council voted 7-4 Tuesday to OK to use $63 million in untapped funds for the 2.5-mile CityLynx Gold Line pending allocation of matching federal dollars. The deadline for the application with the U.S. Department of Transportation is May 31, but the vote clears a major hurdle for the extension.
“I feel the city recommitted to the whole system,” said at-large council member David Howard, a longtime streetcar proponent. “At least now we can go to the feds to keep that (transportation) relationship. We took another step.”
City Manager Ron Carlee’s initiative would not include property taxes to fund the Gold Line, which would extend the streetcar from Hawthorne Lane in east Charlotte to Johnson C. Smith University in the west. Construction of a 1.5-mile stretch of Gold Line is under way from Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in the Elizabeth neighborhood to Time Warner Cable Arena in Center City. Advocates contend the streetcar will give struggling neighborhoods in the east and west a better chance at economic development, and by extension, strengthen the city’s tax base.
“We’ve already started construction,” said Shannon Binns, founder of Sustain Charlotte, an advocacy group for sustainable communities. “The investment we’ve made is significant and we risk wasting that investment if we don’t extend that line. Let’s face it. You can’t make much of an investment in a 1.5-mile project.”
Said Howard: “It starts to make an investment in areas that haven’t seen an investment in quite some time.”
The streetcar has been a contentious issue for City Council, which has bickered over its efficiency and cost for the last year. Disagreement over funding scuttled a $926 million capital improvement plan last year as six council members opposed the streetcar. Beth Pickering and Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, who is running for mayor, switched their support to the extension.
The Gold Line is part of the Charlotte Area Transit System’s 2030 plan to link four corridors of the city with a comprehensive transportation network consisting of light rail, streetcars and buses. Opponents counter a shaky economy makes the Gold Line a risk to taxpayers. The extension, advocates contend, is necessary to keep the plan on pace and financially viable.
“This is the backbone,” Howard said. “It ties it all together for the east and west sides. It’s an affirmation that the city cares about them.”
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