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Charlotte Center City Streetcar Network

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As for how to pay for it, the article mentions the same ideas we've heard before: additional property taxes from the anticipated development along the line and taxes on the neighborhoods where the streetcar would run.

I have a problem with this selective taxation. Without even realizing it, I bought my condo downtown expecting to pay the normal tax rate of any other resident in Charlotte. It's my fault for not checking into it, but, it's still weird that we have all these different tax rates within the same city.

FWIW, I also can't believe that the city would have an inner city tax on residents when they want to encourage urban living. Seems back#&&wards to me. Sorry for the little rant, and offtopic note.

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Though it passed before Trademark opened, I believe the additional tax was self-imposed by some sort of referendum on center city property owners.

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The tax funds a large part of the Center City Partners budget. These are the folks that advocate for downtown, create special events, started the downtown shuttle and later trolley system, etc. They were in instrumental in bring J&W to downtown and act as a sort of chamber of commerce just for downtown. Many cities have a municipal service district tax like Charlotte does.

If you're really concerned about inner city residents having to pay the tax you might ask the group for a copy of their budget to see how they spend your money. Also remember that non-residential is taxed at a much higher rate so the bulk is paid by Bac, Wells Fargo, big landowners.

Anyway, I like the idea of the trolley but its a tough sell given that it really just replaces a bus route, runs in mixed traffic, has a low capacity of service. The best aspect is what it does for the character of the city imo.

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Curious this is in the Nashville Business Journal, and I don't think it is a new article even though it is dated as such. Maybe the business journal has screwed up as it is worded as if they are really talking about Nashville. It looks like the story we talked about here a couple of weeks ago in one of the transit topics. In any case the Business Journal is not exactly known for investigative or or accurate journalism.

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It's Charlotte, notice they discuss Eastland and Beatties Ford Rd. The CBJ charges for articles featured in its print publications (as this article was) but through some technical snafu, you are sometimes able to access the entire text through a sister publication (in this case the NBJ).

I've very supportive of the streetcar as a stop would be within walking distance of my house even though I don't ride the #9 bus. There is just something about fixed rails that in my mind makes the route seem more permanent and reliable. I think it can lead to further development, but that is also a condition of the economy at the time of completion.

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Rail is easier for the layman to use because they can be SURE they won't get swept into an unfamiliar neighborhood by accident. This is a concept we all on UP understand, but it is the underlying factor that would justify cost and open up new parts of the city.

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In terms of development, where is the streetcar currently? Is the city still laying rail and cantilevers down Elizabeth and how far in that phase are they supposed to go?
The plan was to lay rails in the just in the section on Elizabeth and as part of a re-development project. This work was performed regardless of the decision to build the streetcar or not. No other work on the streetcar project is scheduled or funded. The 2030 plan has CATS starting work on the streetcar project in the 2018-2023 time frame. CATS has slipped the 2030 plan by about 3 years at this point so I would say this will be closer to the 2023 date. Keep in mind that it will have to be cost justified.

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The 2030 Plan assumes the main revenue source is the County sales tax. If other fundings sources were used, such as Local Improvement Districts (called Municipal Service Districts in NC) and Tax Increment Financing, then the timeline could be accelerated. Portland used LID to finance its streetcar, while the MAX light rail there used property taxes. Oregon is one of four states without sales taxes.

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The 2030 Plan assumes the main revenue source is the County sales tax. ....

ahh, maybe you have not read the plan. As stated in the 2030 plan funding for the streetcar is as follows:

"Though we haven

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"The economic impact of these projects is very problematic," says Dave Hartgen, transportation professor emeritus at UNC Charlotte and an industry consultant. "You have to get into the specifics" of what is considered economic gain.

Just so everone knows, Hartgen is basically a lone wolf in the transportation profession in NC. He has performed numerous "studies" for the John Locke foundation, basically seeking to prop up anti-transit, pro-road arguments for years. I was told he once called for Rt 4 to be converted to a freeway. LOL.

I personally think the streetcar line is in exactly the right place and makes logical connections between exsiting (JC Smith, Multimodal Ctr, Uptown, Elizabeth, Pres. Hosp., Central, etc) and potential future (Eastland redevelopment) land uses, plus would replace the bus line with the highest ridership. I've always thought that if there was a line that should be funded outside the transit tax, it's the streetcar, since it's not really considered rapid transit (operates in mixed traffic) and is completely focused on central Charlotte. It also makes sense to use the MSD statute (or TIF) for the streetcar since, it can have similar catalyzing impacts on land use as light rail--possibly greater. And of course, there is a huge appetite within the community to accelerate this project well ahead of it's current schedule.

Under an MSD, I would suspect the properties adjacent to the line would have the highest tax rate, while those a few blocks away might have a lower rate, and so on. The cost to a property owner (perhaps a few thousand dollars each) could be fairly easily absorbed through financing packages, and would be made up many times over with substantial increases in property value (versus if the streetcar was not built), and many other benefits of mass transit (less driving, fuel, etc). If I were asked to pay a little extra in property taxes and in return, I'd have direct access to an streetcar accessing all the areas in the plan, I'd sign up in a heartbeat.

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..... Under an MSD, I would suspect the properties adjacent to the line would have the highest tax rate, while those a few blocks away might have a lower rate, and so on. The cost to a property owner (perhaps a few thousand dollars each) .....
The owner of a $200K property in Charlotte pays $917/year in city property tax. On this route this line will take, I would say there are a huge number of people that are paying a lot less than this.

So what I want to know is how you would go about telling a low income person who might be struggling to pay $500/year in city property taxes they now are going to be charged "several thousand dollars" more to pay for a streetcar. The alternative is they pay nothing if the buses continue to run. My guess is there will be a big vat of boiling tar and a truck of feathers for any city council members that might crazy enough to vote for it.

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^To clarify, the 2030 plan used the County sales tax as the main LOCAL revenue source. Furthermore, the bigger point should have been, not that the sales tax was only 25% of the funding or itself now not meeting expectations, but that the other 75% non-local funding may never materialize. So then, not only would any MSD/TIF have to make up for the 25% previously coming from the sales tax, but even the other 75%. And that likely is too hefty of a bill to pay only with new corridor-specific revenue sources. Even the North Corridor Commuter Rail (aka Purple Line) project will be able to tap the County sales tax, for its TIF funding more so makes up for the lack of federal funding. But in the case of Center City Streetcar, you have to make up for everything the 2030 Plan identified as funding sources (sales tax AND state support AND federal). And that is the biggest hurdle to speeding up the streetcar.

At least that's the biggest hurdle for building the full corridor between Rosa Parks and Eastland any sooner without sales tax. In other words, there may be enough tax capacity for a smaller, starter line, say between JCSU and Presby for an accelerated project. The tax capacity today quickly drops as you exit Uptown to the West, especially beyond Five Points, but JCSU is near public land on Brookshire best suited for a streetcar shed. The alternate Barnhardt location has developmental potential that could help determine if a starter alignment can actually afford to make it past Presby to Plaza-Central. And the line is obviously already built to Presby east of Kings. However, the Elizabeth area would need to be included in any new tax district to help pay for building the other parts of a starter line, despite its segment already being built. More importantly, and having the largest tax capacity, Uptown has to be part of any MSD, even though the greatest development boost to happen only with streetcar falls outside of Uptown.

In all, it is a tough sale, especially since the two areas with the greatest tax contribution, either would still see urban development without streetcar (Uptown) or have their piece of the line already built (Elizabeth). But I'd argue Uptown benefits economically as the region's transportation nexus, and Elizabeth is essentially paying back citywide funding used to wisely add tracks now as part of a streetscape project, instead of tearing up the street twice. Whether going to JCSU and Plaza-Central (Presby is built so Plaza-Central is the next logical eastern terminus) could pay their way is less doubtful, even the latter with it large Barnhardt and Family Dollar sites easily yielding 80 units an acre. But hopefully the stronger tax capacity of Uptown/Elizabeth would make up for these weaker outer areas. But going all the way to Rosa Parks and Eastland would then be including more weak areas than strong. Thus, it seems best to wait to build any farther out until Five Points and Plaza-Central become themselves stronger, building off the streetcar (and likely having the greatest relative jump, or increment) such that the overall tax burden can always be shared among more stronger areas.

Portland started small years ago and only recently secured significant non-local funding for expansion. Similarly, I think Charlotte Streetcar can start locally sooner, but it then must start with a much shorter initial line, such as JCSU to Presby or Plaza-Central.

PS- Instead of focusing on Rosa Parks and Eastland, which seem more political ends than economic, I'd even build short branch extensions after the shorter initial segment, if the tax capacity were there. Such branches could be Midtown/CMC/Dilworth via Kings/Kenilworth, Third Ward/Wesley Heights/Bryant Park via Cedar/Morehead, and Fourth Ward/Double Oaks via Graham/Statesville.

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The owner of a $200K property in Charlotte pays $917/year in city property tax. On this route this line will take, I would say there are a huge number of people that are paying a lot less than this.

So what I want to know is how you would go about telling a low income person who might be struggling to pay $500/year in city property taxes they now are going to be charged "several thousand dollars" more to pay for a streetcar. The alternative is they pay nothing if the buses continue to run. My guess is there will be a big vat of boiling tar and a truck of feathers for any city council members that might crazy enough to vote for it.

Well, I live near Central, and the Trolly was great, a year ago, not so great now. I'm middle income but this would be crazy talk in these economic times.

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.....

Portland started small years ago and only recently secured significant non-local funding for expansion. Similarly, I think Charlotte Streetcar can start locally sooner, but it then must start with a much shorter initial line, such as JCSU to Presby or Plaza-Central.

PS- Instead of focusing on Rosa Parks and Eastland, which seem more political ends than economic, I'd even build short branch extensions after the shorter initial segment, if the tax capacity were there. Such branches could be Midtown/CMC/Dilworth via Kings/Kenilworth, Third Ward/Wesley Heights/Bryant Park via Cedar/Morehead, and Fourth Ward/Double Oaks via Graham/Statesville.

What is often forgotten in these comparisons to Portland is their streetcar came as a necessity 3 decades after they setup an urban growth boundary and very draconian laws on land use. This is why it works there. There are no such laws on the books here in Charlotte and in fact the city's plans for urban development are broken, practically non-existent and ignored. It's a mistake to believe that transit drives population into areas because it doesn't. You have to have city policies that require new development to only go into transit corridors and nodes and no where else. Portland did this, in Charlotte at this time such a thing would be considered unacceptable.

On top of that, CATS plan for the streetcar is not to drive development, but instead provide a replacement for a heavy used bus line because it will reduce operational costs. Without the Eastland/Rosa Parks termination points there is no practical need to build it as the people on the route that you point out can be served by the buses. If Charlotte wants to go it's own way and build this streetcar without the benefit of the transit tax then it is more than free to do so, but there is no way that I can see where they can come up with the hundreds of millions to make it happen. They can't arbitrary re-direct the transit tax to the street car line because that tax is not controlled by Charlotte.

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I would think putting another msd tax on downtown property owners is ludicrous because they're already paying into the downtown msd. You'd pretty much have to exempt the whole line from 277 westward to I-77. .0174 and .0386 are the special tax rates in the downtown msd, look a some tax bills on polaris. I believe if you are near Tryon St you pay both but if you are in one of the outlying wards you only pay the lower. A building valued at 1 million dollars would only pay an extra $500 dollars or so into the msd. A typical downtown homeowner probably pays less than 100 extra dollars per year.

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^My point was a shorter starter line would be more development-driven, so have development pay for it. But minus Uptown, which benefits as the nexus, as part of the MSD, you can forget about paying for it sooner.

Long-term, extensions to Eastland and Rosa Parks should still ultimately be built. But if waiting on federal funding and the sales tax, don't expect to reach those places anytime soon.

In other words, if you forgo federal funding and the transit tax, why not build lines more for dense development yet still serving in-town circulation? I'd agree using Federal New Starts or the County sales tax necessitates transportation benefits, which the full corridor best accomplishes. But rather than wait for those conventional sources for major transit projects, you can build the "spine" of a future streetcar system sooner in those very in-town areas where the return in development can help pay for it sooner.

Edited by southslider

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.....

In other words, if you forgo federal funding and the transit tax, why not build lines more for dense development yet still serving in-town circulation? ....

I think that was answered above. In the absence of any comprehensive urban development plan to substantially increase density to justify the cost, it doesn't make any sense.

There is also no such thing as a low cost starter line for this. The jump in cost is extremely high regardless of whether you build 2 miles or 10 miles. You have to have build a place to store, service and clean the vehicles, the base power system has to be built, you have to build the management system, they have to have all the stuff to train all the people supporting these vehicles, and you have to go ahead and protect all the ROW that you might want to use, because if you start it you have to finish it. This stuff isn't cheap, and it won't be cost justified by any means for a line that basically runs just through Elizabeth.

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To clarify, I meant a few thousand dollars TOTAL, not per year; which could be financed such that the payments per year or per month are very manageable. This is a guesstimate based on the Portland experience (I posted an article about this within the last couple of years) and would depend greatly on the financing package. I'm actually not sure about the mechanics of how the financing would work, or if it would work differently for a public works project than for services.

In any case, the net effect is that it is a very manageable amount and would easily be offset many times over by the benefits of a streetcar vs doing nothing.

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.....

In any case, the net effect is that it is a very manageable amount and would easily be offset many times over by the benefits of a streetcar vs doing nothing.

OK, lets do some math. Currently CATS is estimating the Streetcar line will cost $400,000,000. Lets assume that a household would be assessed $3000 specifically to build it. This means you would have to place that tax on 133,000+ households to cover this amount. It would actually be more since you are talking about spreading it over a few years. According to the census, there are only 230K housing units in the entire city. They would have to tax 57% of the houses in the city which is far more than just properties around the line.

So lets say there are 10,000 properties that are near the line, and that is probably being pretty generous, and we put them in a special tax district as you suggest to. Each one would have to fork over $40,000 in tax assessments. This is a complete non-starter given the median housing unit in the city is worth $134K.

The point here is that you won't be about to build this line with these kinds of schemes. The only way to do it is if the entire county is hit up to fund it and I can tell you there would be no hope of getting an additional property tax passed throughout the county to build this streetcar line.

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Here is the preliminary findings from BaE who was hired to study the potential Charlotte Streetcar. They are supposed to come out with their final report this month. I don't think the plan ever was to fund this with 100% TIF or 100% MSD or 100% 1/2 Cent Sales Tax. It is going to take a mix of sources to fund this project which has been the intent all along. The did some different scenarios but the MSD rates they modeled were 0.02% 0.04% and 0.06%. So you can do the math and see how that would affect your yearly tax bill. But on a $200K home that would be $40, $80, $100 respectively.

In the current economic environment it makes it really hard politically to go forward with this accelerated project...but I think its good to get the planning out of the way so that when better times come along they will have the plan ready to go.

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Concerning the chances of getting some help for the streetcar from the stimulus package, Keith Parker had this to say in the Charlotte Business Journal:

There's talk of funding streetcar projects, and Parker says Charlotte is well-positioned to receive a share. While many cities have proposed lines of a few miles, the CATS line is slated to run about 10 miles between Johnson C. Smith University and Eastland Mall.

"The length gives up a leg up," Parker says. "Plus, we are considered a role model of transit systems, and we have processes and protocols already in place. Career staff is still there in the federal agencies, and they know us."

Work is under way for a section through Central Piedmont Community College, and initial design has been done for the segment between Johnson C. Smith and Presbyterian Hospital.

Full article

Edited by CharlotteDave

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Work is under way for a section through Central Piedmont Community College, and initial design has been done for the segment between Johnson C. Smith and Presbyterian Hospital.

Full article

If they ever do start construction, I sure hope it doesn't take as long as it has on Elizabeth Ave. How many years now has that work been going on???

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