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Light Rail To UNC Charlotte Gets $580 Million Federal Boost

Julie Rose

Charlotte officials say this gift from the Federal Transit Administration is the single largest federal grant the city's ever received: $580 million.

FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff traveled from D.C. to bring news of what city leaders have expected for several months now.

That hasn't always been the case, though.

"This project was on life support back in 2009," says Mayor Anthony Foxx.

Revenues from the city's half-cent sales tax for transit had fallen and Congress ended its habit of allowing cities to secure funding through earmarks. But Charlotte was lucky to have completed most of its planning on the project before hard times hit.  The city scaled back a bit, cutting a few planned stops and shaving $200 million off the project to keep its federal grant request on track.

Now the wait is over. Construction on the line should start next fall with light rail up and running by 2017.  The route runs through Congressman Mel Watt's district, connecting Uptown to UNC Charlotte.

But Watt says it's not just for university commuters: "Look at the stops in between those two extremes. This is the people's light rail. The working people's light rail line into downtown Charlotte and out of downtown Charlotte."

City officials hope light rail will do for the North Tryon corridor what it has done along South Boulevard - spur economic development and neighborhood improvement. Mayor Foxx hopes it will inspire the city council and taxpayers to pony up for more transit - he's intent on connecting east and west Charlotte by streetcar.