The future of the streetcar in Charlotte depends on the city's ability to get more federal funding, says City Manager Ron Carlee. To be precise, Carlee proposes Charlotte pursue a grant for half the $126 million price tag to undertake the next 2.5 mile stretch of streetcar extending to the east and west of Uptown.
The city council's reaction to the proposal was tepid.
Maybe they're just tired of talking about the streetcar after a year of rancor. Whatever the reason, city council members didn't offer much vocal support for City Manager Ron Carlee's recommendations last night to keep the streetcar alive.
He suggests using just about every spare penny they've got in their capital budget to try and lure a federal matching grant for the streetcar.
Without a federal grant, Carlee says it's back to the drawing board for the streetcar, which he's now calling "CityLynx Gold Line."
Charlotte's much-maligned streetcar suffers from both a funding problem and an image problem, says Carlee: "This rail project is not a toy. It's not something over here on the side line. It's not a fringe kind of effort. But it is an integral part of our overall transportation policy. It is what literally links the other rail lines and transportation components within our community."
"CityLynx" is a play on the various links the streetcar would make between east and west Charlotte. It's also an effort to capitalize on the positive image of the city's successful light rail to south Charlotte, which is called the Lynx Blue Line.
As for the streetcar funding problem, Carlee will have a challenge winning over council members opposed to spending property taxes on transit projects. The city's capital budget coffers are filled by various revenues – including property, sales and rental car taxes - that get blended together and then divvied out to projects. Carlee is confident the $65 million he's recommending for the streetcar come from the portion of the capital program that is not property taxes.
It's a bit of budget spin that leaves Councilman Michael Barnes cold.
"The issue is, it's all public money," says Barnes. "The other issue is that we need to have sustainable sources."
Barnes is worried Carlee's plan relies too heavily on one-time funding sources to build the streetcar without having a specific way to pay for its operations and future expansion.
Carlee intends to seek endorsement from the region's transit governing board before returning to the city council for a final vote scheduled on May 28.