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FTA gives CATS streetcar extension green light

The Federal Transit Administration has given Charlotte Area Transit System approval to begin project development of the second phase of the streetcar line, CATS and city officials announced Wednesday morning.

The FTA’s go-ahead also allows CATS to apply later this year for a $63 million grant that would pay half the cost of the extension.

The first phase of the streetcar line – which CATS calls the Gold Line – is under construction. It will stretch 1.5 miles from uptown to Presbyterian Hospital, running out Trade Street and continuing on Elizabeth Avenue to Hawthorne Lane.

The second phase would add 2.5 miles and would extend the line on the west to near Johnson C. Smith University and on the east to near Central Avenue and Hawthorne Lane.

Eventually, CATS hopes to extend the line for 10 miles, from Beatties Ford Road and Interstate 85 on the west to the Eastland area at Central Avenue and Sharon Amity Road.

The project has sparked controversy, with critics saying the streetcar line would be too costly and that the money is needed for transportation projects elsewhere.

Johnson C. Smith University President Ronald Carter was with Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon and CATS chief executive Carolyn Flowers for the announcement Wednesday.

“Entering into Phase 2 is a step in the right direction to increasingly serve the public with transit services that promote a thriving community,” Flowers said.

Charlotte City Council recently approved spending $12 million to conduct additional planning. CATS officials say that if they land the $63 million grant, part of that money will be used to repay the city the $12 million.

CATS officials said the FTA’s recent action will allow Charlotte to apply in September for a Small Starts grant to seek the $63 million. The remainder of the project would be paid from existing General Community Investment Pay-As-You-Go and Municipal Debt Service funds, CATS said.

The same funding method was used to build the light-rail line in south Charlotte and the extension to UNC Charlotte, a project that is under way.

Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, said Wednesday that the streetcar line “will strengthen this vital Charlotte corridor, creating a framework for new investments on West Trade Street and Beatties Ford Road, job growth and new housing.”

Carter said extending the Gold Line will create a union of four Charlotte colleges and universities.

“Improved connections between JCSU, Johnson and Wales University, Central Piedmont Community College and UNC Charlotte’s uptown campus create greater potential for research, learning and collaboration,” Carter said.

Lyttle: 704 358-6107
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