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Matthews and eastside leaders slam light rail cuts

Bus stop on a busy road
Tony Mecia
Charlotte Ledger
People waiting for the bus on Monroe Road on Thursday afternoon. The eastern segment of the Silver Line light rail was envisioned as running along this portion of Monroe Road, but its future is now in doubt.

Leaders in Matthews and on Charlotte’s eastside are slamming the idea of eliminating plans for a light rail segment between uptown and Matthews, a move they say will cost them in terms of economic development.

Feelings ranged from betrayal and anger to disappointment on the prospect of missing out on a light rail line, which is widely seen not just as a way of moving passengers but as an economic development engine that has transformed other parts of Charlotte.

Leading the charge has been Matthews Mayor John Higdon, who at a transportation meeting on Wednesday likened Matthews’ predicament to the 1982 Jerry Reed country song “She Got the Goldmine, I Got the Shaft.” (He said Matthews “is getting the shaft.”)

“Matthews is going to lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue over decades because of this decision, and that's just not acceptable,” he said.

Charlotte’s long-stalled comprehensive transit plan picked up new momentum this week, with revelations that the city has reached an agreement in principle to acquire the rights to use Norfolk Southern’s rail tracks to northern Mecklenburg, and that local leaders are coalescing around a bipartisan plan to win needed approval from the state legislature.

But to make the plan palatable to legislators, officials had to agree to cap funding for rail and put more into roads. Higdon said Thursday that Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones told Matthews officials two weeks ago that there was no money for light rail between uptown and Matthews, a route that would be served instead by bus rapid transit. News of the Silver Line cutback was first reported Wednesday by WFAE, The Ledger’s news partner.

At issue is a 15.1-mile segment envisioned as running from uptown’s Gateway Station to 16 stops to the southeast and ending at Central Piedmont Community College’s Levine Campus in Matthews. The city estimated its cost at $5.1B in 2021. The route would hug Independence Boulevard before cutting over toward Monroe Road north of McAlpine Park and then parallel Monroe Road for a stretch. It would go through downtown Matthews, through the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex and end just outside of I-485, though a future extension could take it into Indian Trail in Union County.

Map of east-west rail line
City of Charlotte
Silver Line planning documents
The 26-mile Silver Line, envisioned as a large portion of the city’s transit plans over the last several years, could be curtailed under a new plan that would cap funding for local rail.

Insiders say that the city and town managers in Mecklenburg have had conversations about moving the plan forward in recent months and have kept elected officials updated on their progress. Local politicians have not debated the plans in public meetings, though several this week revealed details of the managers’ discussions.

It’s unclear why the eastern section of the Silver Line was eliminated from plans. Jones, who was in a City Council budget meeting for much of Thursday, was unable to reply to a request to elaborate. However, the segment is by far the most expensive segment of the rail plans. Other rail projects believed to be moving forward are the Red Line to northern Mecklenburg, the western portion of the Silver Line and the extension of the Blue Line to Ballantyne.

Kathy Hill, a board member of Monroe Road Advocates, which champions the Monroe Road corridor, says eliminating plans for light rail is a missed opportunity to get people out of their cars and to uplift the area.

“We’re very, very disappointed,” she said. “If those little transit station areas could be considered villages that were well-designed and well-implemented, this Monroe Road corridor would have been delightful and vibrant. It’s heading that way now, but with something visionary, it would be much better.”

One resident started a thread Thursday on Nextdoor that began: “East Charlotte gets sh— on once again …. All that research and studies and community engagement meetings and planning and promises and tax money spent down the drain.”

City Council member Marjorie Molina, who represents east Charlotte, said on X (Twitter): “No tweet comments from me quite yet on transit. … I’m getting calls from residents & leaders. That’s my answer for now. I am listening to the people I represent for the time being.”

Greg Asciutto, executive director of CharlotteEAST, which advocates for the eastside, said running light rail down Independence could have reinvigorated the area.

“This really was expected to bring some development, which Independence has been lacking since the ’90s to revitalize that corridor,” he said. “It’s really disappointing to see that is being excluded, particularly when you have a major entertainment center at Ovens [Auditorium] and Bojangles’ [Coliseum].”

If east Charlotte is going to be the only side of Charlotte without light rail, he said he hopes the city will at least guarantee to extend the Gold Line streetcar down Central Avenue from the Elizabeth neighborhood to the old Eastland Mall site.

What’s next: The next step in the process sounds as though it will be the introduction of a bill in the General Assembly to allow for a referendum on raising the sales tax for transit and transportation, with details on how that money will be spent and who decides.


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