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CATS seeks $25-million grant for streetcar

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Charlotte, N.C., is going to ask the federal government for $25 million to help build a streetcar line uptown, The Charlotte Observer reports. The City Council voted 7-4 Jan. 25 to apply for a grant that would pay for much of a 1.5-mile line from the Charlotte Transportation Center to Presbyterian Hospital on Hawthorne Drive in the Elizabeth neighborhood. If successful, the city would need to spend at least $12 million of its own money to finish construction.

The Charlotte Area Transit
System’s long-term transit plan calls for a 10-mile streetcar line from
Beatties Ford Road to Eastland Mall via uptown. The line’s entire cost has been
estimated at between $450 and $500 million — roughly the same cost as the Lynx
light-rail line from uptown south to I-485. The challenge has been finding
money to pay for it.

CATS doesn’t have the money.
The Federal Transit Administration has historically not funded streetcars,
though the Obama administration recently changed that rule and released some
money for streetcars. The maximum one city could receive is $25 million.

"For every local
dollar that goes into the grant, we get two federal dollars back," said
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat whose campaigned for mayor last year
advocated a streetcar line.

The city of Charlotte
stepped up its streetcar quest two years ago. The service would begin at the
Charlotte Transportation Center near the Time Warner Cable Arena. It would go
south down Trade Street and link with streetcar tracks already in place on
Elizabeth Avenue to Presbyterian Hospital. The line would have a small loop
around the arena to tie into the light-rail tracks. That would allow streetcars
to be stored at the light-rail maintenance facility south of the New Bern
light-rail station.

The city estimates it would
handle 950 trips a day based on bus ridership on the segment today. By
comparison, the multi-car, 9.6-mile Lynx handles 14,000-15,000 passenger trips
a day.

One downside to the starter
streetcar line is that it wouldn’t replace any existing routes. That means the
Charlotte Area Transit System would continue to operate existing service like
the Gold Rush, and someone — either CATS or the city — would have to pay for
the streetcar’s estimated $1.5 million annual operating cost. Assistant City
Manager Jim Schumacher said it’s unknown whether CATS or the city would pay for
the operating costs.

The $37 million cost also
doesn’t include buying new trolleys. One option is to use three replica
streetcars that the non-profit Charlotte Trolley uses through South End.

"We don’t have to buy
cars," said Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess, a Democrat who voted to seek the
grant. "That buys us time. Everything is coming together."

City Manager Curt Walton
has identified $24 million that could be used for the streetcar. He has
proposed spending $2.5million set aside for engineering and design of the
streetcar. He also has tapped $10.5 million set aside for economic development,
$4 million from "smart growth" funds and $7 million from a business
corridor revitalization fund.

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