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Charlotte’s streetcar misses grant, suffers setback

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Rendering of the proposed Charlotte streetcar to run to JCSU. Courtesy City of Charlotte

The city of Charlotte’s effort to extend its planned streetcar line has suffered a setback, as the project was passed over for a much-needed federal grant.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger’s office said Tuesday it spoke with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which told the office that only two projects in the state received so-called TIGER grants. The two approved projects were for a renovation of Raleigh’s Union Station and another one in Goldsboro, said Jamie Bowers, Pittenger’s communications director.

The city is building a 1.5-mile starter streetcar project from Time Warner Cable Arena to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. That $37 million project was funded in part by a $25 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, part of the U.S. DOT.

The city wants to extend that line, now called the Gold Line, to Johnson C. Smith University and along Hawthorne Lane through the Elizabeth neighborhood. A plan last year to fund that extension with property taxes was defeated by City Council members, but a new financial model was approved in June.

That plan called for no property taxes to be used. Instead, the city would use $63 million in reserve funds and also apply for a $63 million federal TIGER grant.

City Manager Ron Carlee, who created the new financial plan, said Tuesday that the streetcar can still move forward. He said the city will likely be able to apply for future grants. “Frankly I would have been surprised if we had gotten this grant,” Carlee said.

Carlee said he had not spoken with anyone from the U.S. DOT. He was reacting to media calls that he received Tuesday about the city not receiving the grant.

He said it was too early to discuss what the city’s next steps might be to move the streetcar forward.

Bowers said the Republican congressman called the DOT to see how the streetcar fared. He said the DOT is planning to make a formal announcement later this week.

“They said they have a three-day embargo and they are still notifying grant applicants,” Bowers said. But he said the DOT did confirm that only two North Carolina projects were successful.

Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who pushed hard to extend the streetcar, is now the U.S. secretary of transportation. He oversees the vast bureaucracy that includes TIGER grants.

When the city first announced it was seeking a TIGER grant for the streetcar in May, some assumed that it would easily get the grant, because of Foxx. But Foxx has recused himself from being involved with all Charlotte-specific projects in the short term.

The TIGER grants, known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, are supposed to be multimodal, meaning they support multiple forms of transportation.

The city has been successful in getting the $25 million streetcar grant and a roughly $500 million grant from the FTA to extend the Lynx Blue Line to UNC Charlotte.

But Charlotte struck out earlier in seeking a TIGER grant for a commuter rail line to Lake Norman.

The city’s long-term plans for the streetcar call for it to run from the Rosa Parks Transit Center to the site of the closed Eastland Mall, a total of 10 miles.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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