Streetcar construction hinges on federal transportation bill

Construction on Charlotte’s Gold Line streetcar extensions could stall if Congress can’t come to an agreement on the current transportation funding bill.

While the Charlotte Area Transit System acknowledges that there could be an issue, spokesperson Hillary Ryan remains optimistic.

“The City Council has approved the funds for the Gold Line,” Ryan said. “The money is in the president’s budget, and we have full confidence that Congress will approve the funds for the project.”

Without the funds, the project would be put on hold.

The Gold Line Extension will expand the current streetcar system by 2 miles to the west and a half mile to the east. Construction is set to begin in late 2016, with service starting in 2019.

On Wednesday, the House passed legislation that would fund transportation needs, but U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat who voted in favor of the short-term extension, was clearly frustrated by the quick fix.

“I am disappointed that my Republican colleagues failed yet again to put forth a long-term funding solution,” Adams said in a statement. “While I prefer a long-term measure, I voted for today’s short-term extension because it ensures continued funding for these vital projects.”

The legislation is headed to the Senate, where the transportation leadership has made it clear that they want a longer extension.

“We worked hard to include input from both sides of the aisle, and we now have a bill that can move forward towards enacting a multiyear transportation reauthorization bill versus passing additional short-term extensions,” said Senate Transportation Chairman John Thune.

If the Senate passes the bill, it would be the 34th short-term extension in six years. Congress isn’t expected to leave for its August recess without taking action on the measure.

Fortunately for CATS, the money for the light-rail expansion through NoDa isn’t a concern.

“The funding for the Blue Line Extension is already in place so it wouldn’t be affected,” Ryan said.

The Blue Line Extension is 9.3 miles, from Seventh Street to UNC Charlotte’s main campus. According to the CATS website, the extension will generate 7,600 jobs with an estimated project budget of $1.16 billion.