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City Spends $12 Million In Hunt For Streetcar Grant

City of Charlotte

The quest for a cross-town streetcar continues. The Charlotte city council approved spending $12 million last night to pursue a federal grant to fund build-out of the streetcar.

Former Mayor Anthony Foxx championed the streetcar as an economic development project that would revitalize Charlotte’s east and west corridors. A small piece in Uptown has been under construction since December 2012, but the city council rejected using a property tax increase to pay for a two-and-a-half mile extension, despite Foxx’s persistence.

Ultimately—a year and a new city manager later—the council set aside $63 million for the rebranded Gold Line, about half the projected cost for this portion of the project. It does not use property taxes, but relies on winning federal grants to make up the difference.

“If I’m thinking business-wise, I’d work to leverage my money, rather than to spend 100 percent of it,” Mayor Patrick Cannon told the council on Monday.

Cannon told the city council last night that Charlotte needs to spend $12 million on further engineering and planning, to meet the requirements for a federal Small Start grant, which could fund the rest of the project. But, there is no guarantee, which worried Republican councilman Ed Driggs.

“There is a chance that we’ll end up not getting the money,” Driggs said. “That the application will not be successful, and we’ll have spent $12 million toward this goal without knowing how to proceed, or whether we can proceed.”

Charlotte has already lost once. Last year the Department of Transportation instead awarded a smaller federal grant to Kansas City for its streetcar project. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recused himself from that decision. But city staff say its normal to lose out on a few before receiving approval. Councilwoman Vi Lyles compared spending the money to sacrificing a piece in a game of checkers.

“This is a situation where you have to put some money in to get it out,” Lyles said. “My dad said, you’ve got to give one sometimes when you’re playing checkers to win the game. We’re going to win the game.”

In front of a pro-streetcar audience, the council voted 8 to 3 to spend the money and seek the grant—the two Republicans and Democrat Michael Barnes opposed the measure. This portion would fund an extension from Johnson C. Smith University to the Elizabeth area. Ultimately, the city’s transit plan calls for a 10-mile run to the old Eastland Mall area.