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Charlotte streetcar recommended for $75 million federal grant

WHAT HAPPENED: Charlotte’s streetcar line has been recommended for a $75 million federal grant in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget. The grant would help build the next phase of the streetcar, a 2.5-mile extension that would add to the 1.5-mile starter line now under construction.

WHAT IT MEANS: The city already is building a $37 million starter streetcar line, from Time Warner Cable Arena to Elizabeth. That phase is expected to open in June.

The money would pay to extend the streetcar line to 4 miles, from Johnson C. Smith University in the west and along Hawthorne Lane to Sunnyside Avenue in the east.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Charlotte Area Transit System hopes Congress approves that budget this fall, and CATS could put the construction contract out to bid at the end of this year or for early 2016.

The transit system has already reached a milestone of 65 percent design work.

In 2013, City Manager Ron Carlee set aside $75 million in funds for a streetcar match, assuming the city would get a federal grant.

The second phase of the streetcar would open in 2019.

AT ISSUE: Is the streetcar a good idea?

Even the streetcar’s biggest advocates say the ridership on the segment this summer may be underwhelming, since the train will only go from the arena to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

If ridership on the 1.5-mile starter line is small, it is likely to rekindle the issue.

Another point of contention: The city, not CATS, will pay for the operating costs. The first streetcar line will be free. The second phase will require a ticket, which will be the regular cost of a bus or train fare.

NEW STREETCARS: The city plans to buy modern streetcars if the extension is built. The line opening this summer will run on the green, replica trolley cars that were used on the old South End trolley in the late 1990s.

The proposed new streetcars are similar in length to the Lynx Blue Line light-rail cars, though they are more narrow.

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