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City manager to present new Charlotte streetcar plan today

Out with the streetcar. In with the CityLynx Gold Line.

In an effort to breathe life into Charlotte’s stalled streetcar plan, City Manager Ron Carlee has rebranded the electric trolley line. And most important, he will present City Council a new plan Monday night to pay for a 2.5-mile extension.

The city has begun construction on a $37 million 1.5-mile starter line from Time Warner Cable Arena to Presbyterian Hospital, much of which is being funded by a $25 million federal grant.

But an effort to extend that line to Johnson C. Smith University and along Hawthorne Lane has created a massive rift among council members, leading to bickering and gridlock.

Six council members – a majority – are either against the streetcar or are against paying for it with property taxes. Five council members support the project, along with Mayor Anthony Foxx.

Carlee decided last month to separate the streetcar from an $816 million capital plan, which should make it easier for council members to approve. That could clear the way for hundreds of millions of dollars for new roads, sidewalks, affordable housing, neighborhood improvements and police stations.

It’s believed that a major part of Carlee’s new streetcar funding plan will call for the city to again seek a grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

It’s unclear what local money will be used for the project. Carlee has suggested it won’t come from a property tax increase.

Last Monday, when council members were discussing the capital budget, much of the discussion focused on the streetcar, which wasn’t on the agenda.

Democrat Claire Fallon, a vocal streetcar opponent, asked Carlee how long it would have to be subsidized. Democrat Beth Pickering, another opponent, said the city shouldn’t wait for the streetcar to improve west Charlotte, and should invest money in the area immediately.

Republican Andy Dulin, who is also opposed, predicted Monday’s streetcar discussion would be a “rodeo.”

In addition to paying for the streetcar’s construction, the city must also find money to pay for operating the line.

One possibility would be to use money that pays for the Gold Rush free bus trolley that runs along Trade Street. The streetcar – or CityLynx Gold Line – would cover the same path, allowing the Charlotte Area Transit System to shift those operating dollars to the streetcar.

Foxx, who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to be secretary of transportation, could be in a position to help the city if confirmed by the Senate. As secretary, Foxx would oversee the Federal Transit Administration, which is responsible for awarding grants that could pay for a streetcar.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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