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Charlotte leaders: No chance there's a transit sales tax vote in 2024

The Charlotte City Council is holding its annual retreat in Winston-Salem. Council members discussed the city's transit plan Tuesday.
Steve Harrison
The Charlotte City Council is holding its annual retreat in Winston-Salem. Council members discussed the city's transit plan Tuesday.

The city of Charlotte said Tuesday there won’t be a countywide vote on a penny sales tax increase for transit this year, even if the General Assembly OKs placing the tax on the ballot in its upcoming legislative session.

“Even if we were to get permission in the short session, we won’t be ready in 2024,” City Manager Marcus Jones told City Council members at their annual planning retreat in Winston-Salem.

It's the latest reminder that despite the city of Charlotte trying for the last four years to build support for a $13.5 billion transportation plan, there's still no clear path forward for the city's big-ticket transit projects. Most of the money raised by a higher sales tax would go to projects like the Silver Line light rail and Red Line commuter rail.

But city leaders are in limbo, hesitant to ask Republican legislators to approve the tax when neighboring towns and counties aren’t on board.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said the city is also still trying to move forward with the proposed Red Line, a commuter rail line from uptown to Lake Norman. The city has been negotiating with Norfolk-Southern since last summer so it can share the railroad’s freight tracks.

“I believe what we’re trying to do is get our home base ready,” Lyles said. “You can’t go and just say to the (House) speaker or the president of the Senate, until you have your own members of your delegation (supporting you).”

The towns of Davidson, Huntersville and Cornelius have pushed for the Red Line for two decades. Their support is vital to the transit plan moving forward.

Charlotte Area Transit System interim chief executive Brent Cagle said the talks with the railroad haven’t produced a breakthrough.

“They haven’t led to a solid decision either way, but (the talks) are part of the process to get us there,” Cagle said. “How long will it take? I don’t know. It will take the time it takes. And the good news is all of those conversations are still being had.”

With Norfolk Southern talks ongoing, the city said there’s no way it could ask voters to approve a tax via referendum in 2024. Which means for now at least, the plan remains stalled.

The transit plan also includes the Silver Line, a proposed light-rail line from Matthews to the airport. There also would be more money for buses, greenways, sidewalks and roads.

Council member Tariq Bokhari urged the city to focus more on roads, with a new plan that spends less money on rail and takes a "roads first" approach.

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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.