|Streetcar in Portland, Ore. Can Charlotte's project find funding? (Photo: David Walters)|
Most of the discussion was about finding ways to pay for the streetcar project that weren't a simple, citywide property tax increase. But here's the big picture, as articulated by City Manager Curt Walton: "The Blue Line Extension is likely to be the last project of its kind."
That $1.1 billion project recently won federal funding for half its cost.
Don't expect Congress to continue to fund a public transit program that pays half the cost of building, Walton said. As for the other proposed 2030 Plan transit projects – the Red Line commuter rail, the Silver Line corridor to the southeast, the West corridor toward the airport, Walton said, "We're not going to get those anytime soon. It's going to take decades and decades and decades."
The first streetcar leg – from Presbyterian Hospital to the Transportation Center on East Trade Street – is being built with a $25 million federal grant and $12 million in city funds. The $119 million second leg – from the Transportation Center to Johnson C. Smith University and from the hospital to Sunnyside Avenue near Central Avenue – was a piece of a $926 million, eight-year Capital Improvement Plan that did not win council support in June. The whole CIP would have required a 3.6-cent increase in the city property tax.
Meeting for the second in a series of budget-specific sessions, the council spent most of two hours talking about different revenue tools for the streetcar. Although the streetcar project (from Beatties Ford Road at Interstate 85 to the former Eastland Mall site) is a part of the Metropolitan Transit Commission's 2030 transit plan, it's far down the list of projects, and the transit sales tax isn't bringing in enough revenue to let the MTC build any projects after the Blue Line Extension, due to start construction next year.