A Streetcar Named Bankruptcy

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So our illustrious Charlotte city council last night voted to take 25 million of federal money to start a new uptown street car boondoggle.. er I mean transit system.  To avoid confusion with the multitude of pet rail projects around here they decided to end service on the uptown trolley that has been in operation for the last two years.. and which we spent a whopping 40-60 million to create and operate.  The real numbers there are a little hard to come by but we know it was at least 40.. and 60 is more likely.  This “free” federal money for the new street car will be paired with at least 12 million of local money that is going to come not from the 1/2 cent transit sales tax.. but from the general fund.. aka property tax which they promised never to do by the way.

A little more history… back in 2007 there was a voter referendum to repeal the 1/2 cent sales tax in order to de-fund the light rail and put an end to all this train madness.  One of the big reasons the repeal failed was because the powers-that-be made a promise to the black leadership that they would give them a transit project of their own.. aka the street car in exchange for supporting the funding for light rail… which will not run in the more ‘diverse’ parts of town.  A few months after that vote.. the city leadership pushed the street car project to the back burner with a best case delay of about 10 years.  Last night at the meeting this was referenced as being one of those ‘empty promises’ that the black leadership was none too happy about.

Fast forward to today… the city is broke.. the county is broke.. the state is broke.. and the country is broke by many measures.  There have been no ridership studies… there is no money to operate the street car and CATS doesn’t want it.. other local rail projects have been running about 40% over budget to build and serious money losers to operate.. and yet none of this matters to the vote-buying city council. Promises were made.. and broken.. and now their seats might actually be on the line… so of course they cave and vote to spend more money we don’t have on a project we don’t need.  [![20091121-Elizabeth Ave 02][3]][3]

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This is a toy.. plain and simple not a serious transit project. Additional buses could do this job for about 1/10 the cost and would fit easily into the existing infrastructure/maintenance programs.  Additionally, bus routes can be adjusted as needed.. tracks running down the middle of the street can’t.  Buses can route around traffic accidents and street work.. trains can not.  The tracks are deadly to people on bikes or motorcycles.. ride down in one of those gaps and over the bars you will go. In this shot of Elizabeth Ave you can see what they have in mind.. the street car will totally block traffic where the tracks are installed and what about that on street parking?

Of course.. the economic development argument is a popular one in favor of projects like this.. but lets look at that.  The first 1.5 miles of this track, which we are paying at least 37 million for, will be in center city where almost the entire route is already developed.  You have the hospital.. CPCC, a few government buildings and a smattering of small businesses.  So.. not much development potential here.  When fully built the 500 million dollar line is going to run out to Eastland Mall.  This is the place the city very nearly paid 20 million for last year.. that was just sold to a private interest for 2 million with plans to turn it into some sort of big indoor flea market.  That certainly sounds worthy of a half billion of our tax money right? I’m quite sure the city will be spending more money to improve Eastland mall and all along the new route just like they did with south blvd… throwing more good money after bad.. and helpfully not counting that spending as part of the cost of the transit.

Be sure to contact the members of the city council and let them know just how much you appreciate them voting for this project against the wishes of a large majority of the voting public… sorta like the uptown arena.