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City Council OKs $50M For Silver Line Design Work

New lines would expand the Lynx system north and west of Charlotte. CATS plans meetings on how to link new lines with existing ones, including the Lynx Blue Line (photo).
The Blue Line light rail runs north-south through Charlotte. The proposed Silver Line would run east-west.

The Charlotte City Council voted 8-2 Tuesday night to approve a $50 million contract to design the Silver Line – a 26-mile light rail project from Matthews to Belmont. 

The contract with WSP USA will give the Charlotte Area Transit System more clarity on how and where the light rail would be built, and how much it would cost.

Republican council members Tariq Bokhari and Ed Driggs voted no. Driggs said the city should first consider how it will pay for the line, either through higher property taxes or higher sales taxes.

He also said he’s worried the city has been so focused on the cost of the Silver Line – expected to be at least $3 billion – that it won’t get a good deal on the $50 million design contract.

"$50 million is not exactly sneezing money, OK?" Driggs said. "I want to make sure that when we commit $50 million, that we’re going to get good value and that we’re not so distracted by the billions that we plan to spend later that we say, 'Why worry about it? It’s only $50 million.'"

City Manager Marcus Jones said the city can opt out of the contract before it spends the full $50 million. He also said the design work could take between 2-3 years. The city had earlier said it might take as long as five years.

Council member Dimple Ajmera voted to spend the $50 million. 

"The further we wait, the price – land acquisition -- is going to go up," she said. "So the time to invest is now."

Council member Matt Newton, who also voted yes, said he believed voters last week rejected the quarter-cent sales tax increase for the arts, parks and education because they wanted to use sales tax money for transit instead.

The Silver Line would run through uptown, near the Brookshire Freeway. It would also stop at Charlotte Douglas Airport.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.