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Charlotte Snags Money To Build Streetcar

Charlotte's streetcar dreams are on track with the announcement Thursday of a major federal transit grant. One day, Charlotte city officials hope to have a trolley car clang-clang-clanging its way from Beatties Ford Road on the west side all the way through town to the Eastland Mall. That 10-mile route will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and is many years off. But the first step - a one and a half mile segment heading east out of Uptown - is off and running. Charlotte is one of only six cities chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation for a streetcar grant. It will cover $25 million of the project's $37 million price tag. Federal transit administrator Peter Rogoff praised the Charlotte plan in a national conference call. "It's really gonna stimulate economic development of underutilized vacant land they have down there," said Rogoff. "And it's about connecting people to major destinations and employers like the Central Piedmont College and Presbyterian Hospital." For Charlotte city officials, the economic development potential of the streetcar line is even more important than its ability to move people. The City's transit services manager, John Mrzygod, says a bus could just as easily carry people along the streetcar route. But a bus doesn't stimulate development like a streetcar can. "When you put that track in the ground, you know that track won't be going anywhere anytime soon," says Mrzygod. "That permanence helps establish the development community in supporting the streetcar because they know they will have patrons there day after day for many, many years." That explains why the city's economic development department is providing about half of the $12 million Charlotte will need to scrape together in order to supplement the federal streetcar grant. The first one-and-a-half mile stretch is now scheduled for completion in 2014.