Charlotte's streetcar project is not dead, but its future is in limbo after the city's initial federal funding application was denied. Charlotte Area Transit System CEO Carolyn Flowers says there are other grants the streetcar may qualify for, but snagging them could require more investment from the city's taxpayers.
Charlotte's $25 million streetcar request apparently didn't measure up to Kansas City's, which snagged $20 million - the largest grant in the latest round of competitive transportation funding known as TIGER grants.
That put Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the position of touting another city's streetcar, instead of the one he long-championed as Charlotte mayor.
"This is a project connecting a center city – a burgeoning central business district – to a part of Kansas City that has historically been underserved," said Foxx during a call with reporters.
Foxx used to make a similar pitch for Charlotte's streetcar, but the city couldn't touch Kansas City's promise to come up with 80 percent of the project cost on its own through a new sales tax along the streetcar route.
Charlotte only offered to split the cost 50-50 with the feds, using leftover money from the city's capital fund. The Charlotte City Council, whose members face re-election in November, has made clear it will not raise property taxes to pay for transit.
"This may be a lesson for us, that we have to look at special assessment districts; we have to look at TIFFs and other forms of value capture to support our projects in the future, because that is what Kansas City did," says CATS CEO Carolyn Flowers.
She says the city will now apply for a different, much larger federal grant of $125 million for the streetcar. Flowers adds that it's not uncommon for the city's transit requests to be rejected several times before ultimately winning federal funds.
"I think every competitive grant opportunity is important, but (losing this one) is not fatal," says Flowers.
She says it may also be a case of needing to chew what's in our mouth before taking another bite from the federal pie: Charlotte has already received a $25 million transit grant to build the first one-mile stretch of streetcar from the uptown transit center east to Presbyterian Hospital. That stretch won't be done until 2015. Extending it any further will rely on getting more federal money.