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Charlotte to try again for federal streetcar money

After failing to land a federal grant in September to build a streetcar extension, the city of Charlotte said Wednesday it will try again.

The city’s new plan is to apply for a “Small Starts” grant with the Federal Transit Administration, to be included in President Obama’s 2016 fiscal year budget, according to a memo.

Charlotte is now building the first phase of the streetcar, which it now calls the CityLynx Gold Line. That 1.5-mile line will run from Time Warner Cable Arena to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

The second phase would extend that starter line in two directions. The streetcar would be extended to Johnson C. Smith University to the west and along Hawthorne Lane in Elizabeth to the east.

The streetcar has had a tortured history.

A year ago, the city proposed paying for the $126 million extension through a property tax increase. But a majority of council members, including Demcoratic mayor-elect Patrick Cannon, rejected that plan.

In May, City Manager Ron Carlee instead proposed using $63 million in reserves and seeking $63 million in federal grants. In its first attempt at federal money, the city didn’t receive a so-called TIGER grant, designed to fund transportation projects that are multimodal.

The new time frame, outlined by the city, would be to ask the Federal Transit Administration this month for permission to begin detailed planning for the line.

The city hopes to receive FTA approval in January or February. After that, Charlotte would submit its Small Starts application in September. The city hopes it would win approval from the FTA in early 2015.

Olaf Kinard, a Charlotte Area Transit System marketing manager, said the TIGER grant application earlier this year was a long shot.

“We took that shot,” he said. “But the Small Starts has been our plan all along.”

Former Mayor Anthony Foxx — a major streetcar supporter — is now U.S. Secretary of Transportation, which oversees the FTA.

Upon taking office in July, Foxx pledged to recuse himself from weighing in on any Charlotte projects for one year. That recusal would expire in the summer of 2014.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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