North Charlotte Light Rail At Risk
6:05 pm
Fri August 24, 2012

North Charlotte Light Rail At Risk

The plan to extend light rail from Uptown to UNC-Charlotte is in jeopardy as a result of decisions made this week on the city and state level.

City council members rejected a plan to raise taxes for street and sidewalk projects that would support the rail line. North Carolina lawmakers have drafted a budget that eliminates funding for the project.

Both moves come just as Congress prepares to review Charlotte's request for a large grant to cover half the cost of constructing the Blue Line Extension.

Mayor Anthony Foxx offered a pretty grim prognosis for the Blue Line Extension Monday night as he chastised six of his colleagues for defeating the tax increase proposal.

About $100 million from that tax hike would have gone toward sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks that transit officials say are "crucial to the success" of light rail in north Charlotte.

Foxx said the council's vote against that money comes just when the federal government is deciding whether Charlotte deserves the half-a-billion-dollar transit construction grant its requested.

"This vote tonight tells leaders in not only Washington, but in Raleigh, to forget about that," said Foxx.

But even as council members were voting Monday night, they knew lawmakers in Raleigh had introduced a budget amendment to prohibit the use of state transportation funds for light rail in Mecklenburg County.

Charlotte is counting on the state to cover a quarter of the $967 million construction cost of the Blue Line Extension. The senate budget amendment would force the Blue Line to compete for money with road projects such as Independence Boulevard and I-485.

At the very least, that would delay the Blue Line, says Charlotte Area Transit System spokesman Olaf Kinard.

"It could bring into question - for the feds - the funding level commitment at the state, and so that could delay the project and any type of delay in a project that size also increases the cost," says Kinard.

Charlotte city officials hope to get funding for the Blue Line Extension back in the state budget before a final legislative vote in the coming weeks. At the same time, city council members are negotiating what portion - if any - of the $926 million infrastructure improvement package they can support.

Mayor Foxx has threatened to veto any budget that doesn't fully address the city's needs and has indicated funding for street and sidewalk improvements around the light rail falls into that category.

To get that, he may have to compromise on another transit project: The plan to build a streetcar line across Uptown Charlotte was a key sticking point in the city budget for at least one member of council.

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