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Advocates: Keep streetcar on track
Project would benefit east, west corridors
Published Thursday, June 21, 2012 8:17 pm
by Herbert L. White

Proponents of a Charlotte streetcar program are adamant that City Council keep its funding on track.

The first leg of the proposed Charlotte streetcar project was built with $25 million in federal grants. Charlotte City Council is debating whether it will support a $119 million budget proposal to continue the program.

In a Thursday press conference at Johnson C. Smith University, streetcar advocates – primarily from east and west Charlotte – pushed for the $119 million program’s inclusion in the city’s capital plan. The council will meet on June 25 to debate alternatives to the $1.97 billion budget that was defeated in a 6-5 vote June 11.

“I was stunned by the last-minute impasse that arose, given the council overwhelmingly in a 9-2 vote approved the budget in the straw vote only days earlier,” Charlotte Streetcar Advisory Committee Chair and JCSU President Ronald Carter said.

The streetcar is a high-profile point of contention in City Manager Curt Walton’s proposed $926 million, five-year capital investment program. Besides building the track and overhead wires, the city would buy seven new modern streetcars, which are 50 percent larger than a Charlotte Area Transit System bus.

Opponents contend a streetcar is a misplaced luxury for a city struggling to recover from the recession, but backers counter the project will build Charlotte's tax base in its urban core and improve long-term transportation options. Charlotte property taxes would rise 3.6 percent, which combined with a 2.4 percent decrease in Mecklenburg taxes, would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $2 a month.

“Regardless of political affiliation, Carter said, "most would agree that fair distribution of the tax burden is a commendable strategy and the Charlotte streetcar is a key component of such a strategy on the West End.”

The streetcar would ultimately cost an estimated $500 million and span 10 miles from Rosa Parks Place Community Transit Center on Beatties Ford Road along Trade Street, Elizabeth Avenue and Hawthorne Street to the Eastland Community Transit Center on Central Avenue.

A $25 million federal grant allowed the city to build the initial 1.5-mile section of track from Presbyterian Hospital to Center City. The city is responsible for the remainder of the $37 million project, which is expected to begin construction in December. City officials expect the streetcar to open in 2015 and will use the old trolley vehicles that were last used in South End.

“It’s not about where we are today. It’s about where we want to be 10, 15, 20 years from now,” said N.C. Sen. Malcolm Graham, a former council member and JCSU’s vice president for community engagement and government affairs. “We need a lot of transportation options for our community."

Susan Lindsay, former president of Charlotte East Community Partners, said a streetcar  isn’t a “toy” as detractors suggest, but an economic engine that will spur development.

“By committing to rail and a permanent line along this extensive east-west corridor, you are telling people who are investing in that corridor that we’re not going to be deviating from public transit on that corridor,” she said. “It’s not going to go down the drain in 20 or 30 years because they moved the bus route.”

Carter cited studies that found a streetcar would boost residential development by 44 to 73 percent and retail by 44 to 54 percent and increase tax revenue by an average $7.3 million to $13.3 million over 25 years. For inner city investors like JCSU, which launched a redevelopment campaign in Historic West End – the streetcar would spark growth in fragile neighborhoods.

“This project would provide a shot in the arm to economic development in the corridor,” he said, “continuing the momentum that is already begun with Johnson C. Smith University’s new Arts Factory and the Mosaic Village.”

Also: Bipartisan group: Lower property tax increase


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