Politics & Government

Charlotte City Council approves streetcar construction contract

The Charlotte City Council voted 8-2 Monday to approve a $94.1 million construction contract to build the second phase of the streetcar.
The Charlotte City Council voted 8-2 Monday to approve a $94.1 million construction contract to build the second phase of the streetcar. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte City Council’s 8-2 vote Monday to approve a $94.1 million construction contract for the second phase of the streetcar will allow work to begin in 2017, with the city expecting the project to be finished by summer of 2020.

The city had hoped to award the contract earlier this year, but the two bids received exceeded the city’s budget for construction work – one by more than 30 percent and one by nearly 40 percent.

But after re-bidding the project – and eliminating some items from the contract – the city found a firm that could meet its budget. Johnson Bros. Construction was awarded the contract.

The project will extend the current 1.5-mile streetcar line by 2.5 miles – to Johnson C. Smith University to the west and to Sunnyside Avenue to the east.

Monday’s vote continued seven years of partisan divide over the controversial project, now called the Gold Line.

The first streetcar vote came at the end of former Mayor Pat McCrory’s term in 2009. Democrat Gregg Phipps, who supports the project, said the council’s numerous streetcar votes resemble congressional votes over whether to repeal President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Republicans Ed Driggs and Kenny Smith voted no.

Driggs was concerned that the city was able to find $29 million in savings since it first bid the project over the summer.

“The $29M discrepancy – I don’t think that speaks well,” he said. “That’s a large amount of money to discover that you didn’t have to spend. I won’t support this.”

Smith said he doesn’t believe the project will ease congestion or create economic development.

Democrat Al Austin represents District 2 in northwest Charlotte, which will be served by the line. He said his constituents enthusiastically support the project.

The contractor will install rails in the streets, as well as an overhead catenary wire to power the train.

The contract also calls for replacing the Hawthorne Lane bridge over Independence Boulevard. The existing bridge isn’t strong enough to handle the weight of 100,000-pound streetcars.

The contract also calls for some non-streetcar-related work.

Johnson Bros. will install decorative street lighting along West Trade Street and Beatties Ford Road from Interstate 77 to French Street. In addition, the contractor will realign Frazier Avenue slightly to the north, so the city can create a four-way signalized intersection at Wesley Heights Way, Frazier Avenue and Trade Street.

Council members also approved Monday the purchase of six modern Siemens S70 streetcars for $40.4 million for the second phase of the line. The new streetcars will replace the green and yellow replicas being used today.

The total cost of the Gold Line’s second phase is $150 million, including construction, vehicles, real estate acquisition and other costs.

The federal government has agreed to pay $75 million of the construction costs. The city plans to pay the other $75 million with money from the general fund budget. CATS isn’t paying for the project.

The city’s contract with the federal government calls for the project to be finished by August 2020.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

Incentive grant for snack maker OK’d

Charlotte City Council voted 10-0 Monday for an incentive grant for the snack maker Snyder’s Lance Inc., which plans to add 130 new jobs over five years to its existing Charlotte facility on South Boulevard.

The company will receive a Business Investment Grant worth $631,166 over five years. The county will give the company a little more than $1 million over the same period.

In addition to the new jobs, the company plans to invest $38 million in the South Boulevard plant and a Ballantyne headquarters. The average salary of the jobs is $45,000.

Snyder’s Lance also considered Stockton, Calif., and Columbus, Ga., for the expansion.

Republican Kenny Smith, who usually votes against tax incentives for businesses, said he voted for the grants because of the company’s commitment to Charlotte. He said that since House Bill 2 was enacted, “special interests from Washington, D.C.,” have pressured businesses not to come to Charlotte.