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2030 Transit Plan

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CATS presented their revised 2030 Transit plan for Mecklenburg County. A copy of the plan can be viewed at this link. This is the plan for building trains in Mecklenburg county for the next 25+ years.

This topic is a continuation of the previous "Which Line Should Charlotte Build Next" topic which can be viewed here.

This is a map of the proposed system as originally put forth by the 2025 plan.

LYNX.jpg

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Some comments on the presentation of the revised 2030 transit plan that was presented tonight. I won't get into the details as those will be put online according to CATS

  • 4 alternative build plans were presented. All of them assumed they would move forward immediately on the NE line. The preferred alternative would build the NE, and phaseI of the North lines at the same time.

  • McCroy suggested dropping some of the transit corridors from the transit plan. He used the streetcars as an example.

  • Charlotte has a paid lobbiest in DC. They are going to ask for a political reading on what kind of money is coming from the Feds. I found it interesting that he commented on not knowing the results of the Nov election in time to make any decisions.

  • McCroy expressed alarm on the fact the city does not the money to develop the areas around the stations on the NE and North lines. (3 stations on the North)

  • In addition, if the N. Tryon option is taken on the Northeast line, its the city of Charlotte that would have to come up with the $26M to build it. He thought that city council would have an issue with this. CATS has done a messy job on this part as they did not present the two alternatives of N. Tryon vs the RR tracks. The N. Tryon route might not even qualify for federal funding as it does not increase ridership.

  • McCroy expressed a lot of doubts about funding coming from the NCDOT. He said there isn't any state funding models currently in place that would provide funding for the remaining system. One of the scenarios has about $1B as the NCDOT commitment to the system.

  • Mayor McCroy took the opportunity admonish the city staff on their handling of the South LRT. The news here is that if they don't meet the November date for finishing the line, the city will have to pay the federal government back.

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I attended the MTC meeting in person tonight and would also like to add my comments:

The MTC will be having a special meeting on November 8th to go over the 2030 Alternatives in greater detail.

Charlotte Finance Department is still reviewing these plans to make sure the city has enough debt capacity.

CATS provided 4 Alternatives to the MTC, however none of them were recommended. Also CATS said they could look at entirely different scenarios at the MTC's direction.

All 4 scenarios in addition to assuming the NE line would begin in 2007 also showed implementation of the West Enhanced Bus starting in 2008.

McCrory asked if CATS had looked at dropping any of the Corridors, to which Ron Tober's response was that if that is what MTC wanted then CATS would look at doing that. However they have pretty much already dropped the West Corridor from the plans. In fact in Alternative B they presented tonight showed that design for the West Streetcar wouldn't begin till after 2035.

I also found McCrory's comments on not knowing the outcome of the election interesting. He must have forgotten that they will not make a decision on the 2030 plan till after the elections. So he and the rest of the world will know the outcome by then.

McCrory stated he wanted to know what kind of infrastucture upgrades would be needed in the station areas for the respective lines. Of course all of those upgrades would be outside of any FFGA with the Feds..and would not be under the direction of the MTC. Pam Syfert responded that the city has not done an assesment yet of the station area infrastructure needs on the future corridors.

CATS presented the options on the NE line regarding an alignment along Tryon or the RR Tracks earlier this summer to the MTC. The MTC decided to go with the RR Tracks alingment. However the City of Charlotte is still looking at doing the Tryon St alignment and won't know the results of an economic impact study till this summer. It looks like if Charlotte decides to do the Tryon St alignment it would have to pay for the extra cost out of pocket. All of this will be decided in Summer 2007.

I found McCrory's doubts about NC funding to be genuine...but also a bit uninformed. A lot of the CATS corridors are already on the NCDOT TIP...evidently McCrory is unaware of that. Of course the NC funding is not a gurantee and that I think was McCrory's concern.

Towards the end of the meeting McCrory jokingly told the city staff that they were not allowed to sleep for the next year to make sure the South LRT is built ontime.

Helms' closing comment was for people to expect the plan they adopt next month to not actually be what gets built. His point was that construction projects hardly ever go to plan, especially ones that take 30 years to build.

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McCrory struck me as someone that has been taking the heat in private, and was under some stress as he asked a lot of questions. He has staked a lot of political capital on the success of the transit plan... and transit isn't a resonating issue among Republicans.

Tober says the south line is 60% complete and will finish on schedule. Albeit, with very little time to spare. Still, I find it hard to believe the Feds will refuse to fund, if the system was oh... 90% complete at the end of the year. (It would be a huge black eye for Charlotte though, and I think could doom any other lines being funded.)

Tober deserves some credit, in finally using inflationary increases for construction costs and real estate acquisitions, within the projections. But now the increased numbers will play louder in the press.... and I think a political grenade has been lit. What line -realistically- won't be funded??

The Matthews mayor edged towards that question. He wanted to know why every one of the 4 proposals assumes the North line will be completed to Mooresville, when there is no indication that the political will exists to fund it beyond Mt Mourne.

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CATS presented the options on the NE line regarding an alignment along Tryon or the RR Tracks earlier this summer to the MTC. The MTC decided to go with the RR Tracks alingment. However the City of Charlotte is still looking at doing the Tryon St alignment and won't know the results of an economic impact study till this summer. It looks like if Charlotte decides to do the Tryon St alignment it would have to pay for the extra cost out of pocket. All of this will be decided in Summer 2007.

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CATS did present a cost effectiveness study of the N Tryon alignment this summer to the MTC...and they based their decision on selecting the RR track alignment partially on the cost effectiveness data supplied by CATS.

What I think McCrory needs to remember is that the 2030 Plan doesn't set anything in stone. It is purely a long range planning document. The MTC approving this plan doesn't mean that things are going to happen exactly as laid out in the plan. Each corridor still has to move forward on its own merits and timing which will be dictated by its own set of conditions.

Adding the $26M in cost to the line for the N Tryon alignment will not disqualify the line from getting a FFGA under the current rules. The N Tryon line hasn't even been submitted for Preleminary Engineering yet, so there is plenty of time to make tweaks and changes to the line before FFGA time gets here.

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I thought about some of the questioning that went forth last night, and the fact they have decided to add another meeting on the subject, and I am wondering if they won't ask CATS for more alternatives? I think this because the 4 scenarios that CATS presented automatically asks the city to immediately sign up for what is essentially a billion dollar project which is certainly beneficial to CATS personnel and sounds a bit self serving.

Because they have decided to shoot their wad on the NE line no matter what else is built I think I have come to the following conclusions about this.

  • CATS has stacked the deck in favor of the NE Line. It means they can dramatically increase the size of the organization and this project will suck up most of the MTC resources for decades to come.

  • If the MTC votes for any of these plans as presented, the streetcar lines are out. They are in the plans, but they are getting such short shrift, they will be dropped in the next interation which occurs in 3 years.

  • The SE will never see light rail. They will be getting buses because of the costs of the NE line.

It will be interesting to see how the Huntersville paper reports on this as it will pretty much set what kind of support they will see from the North on these plans. They have been amazingly accurate on how this would come out, the only thing missing at this point was the fact that CATS has asked the MTC to immediately begin building the most expensive thing in the 2030 plan to almost the exclusion of everything else. Even the Observer, which isn't known for its analysis of these things, seems to indicate the Northern mayors are not going to support any of these plans.

It's not clear to me that even the Charlotte Mayor supports this plan it turns out it is the city that assumes the entire debt of the project (the way this is organized) and signing up for a $billion of debt might be a tough thing for him to sell to the city council. The Mayor is no doubt getting a lot of political heat from his generally anti-transit party and a future stars in that party are not coming from the let's build expensive transit camp. He is being asked to sign up for a billion dollar light rail project before the troubled South LRT carries even one passenger and proves that LRT will work in this county. There is a lot of political risk in this decision for a politican that may have his eyes on greater things than the mayorship of Charlotte. At least from the line of questions that he put out, it's pretty clear he is concerned about it.

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I have reached pretty much the same conclusions, if gas stays under $3 a gallon for the next few decades. CATS seems to be ignoring the political need to keep the northern towns hooked into the transit plan. Even if the north line can't attract Federal money, CATS should have pieced together something, using TIFs or COPs and at least explained what the results would be of attempting the North line next.

The Cornelius mayor seems pretty skeptical of CATS ability to budget into the future. He wanted more than just a one-line graph of projected cash flow, and wanted to know what was in "Design" and what was in "Construction" and who came up with the estimates.

I felt like Huntersville's mayor was kind of disconnected from the process. She asked a few questions about public input that could have been answered by just looking at CATS' website. Then asked a long meandering question about real estate growth along the entire corridor that seemed to perplex Tober and left a few puzzled looks on the other MTC members.

I'm not convinced the MTC is about to break up like an iceberg though. "What's good for Charlotte is good for us" may keep Matthews, Mint Hill, and Pineville working with McCrory. And the northern towns like the express bus service CATS provides. There is room for some back scratching behind the scenes, to keep the MTC together.

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It's really disheartening to see how far out the timelines on some of these projects are. I'll almost be 60 in 2035!

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It's really disheartening to see how far out the timelines on some of these projects are. I'll almost be 60 in 2035!

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^You are correct. That is the map from the 2025 plan. I have revised the wording to reflect this.

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I think that the MTC will go with either Plan A or C...or a hybrid of the 2.

What is really going to determine the timing of the North Line is how much participation they can get from developers. I don't know if people picked up on this...but there was talk about having the MTC go into executive session to listen to what the developers offer was. It ends up the MTC is not allowed to go into executive session, so the developer would have to do that with the Charlotte City Council.

If a developer steps forward with money to help fill the finding gap on the North Line that I see something close to Alternative A going forward (2007 start for North Line) . If a developer does not come forward for the North Line then I see something closer to Alternative C with the North Line having a 2013 start.

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My guess is the Northern towns are going to challenge what CATS has presented and instead ask that more of the transit tax be applied to the N. Line. Exactly what they would suggest as an alternative is anyone's guess, but I don't think there is any support for any of the plans presented last night. There is a very long front page article today in the Huntersville paper, that was written before last nights meeting, that is very negative on how CATS is handling future plans for the transit system and how it might mean the North doesn't get rail at all.

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I do not envy the MTC as they have some very difficult decisions to be made in the next month. It is not going to be possible for them to be able to please everyone.

I do think that there is support on the MTC for making the NE corridor 1st in line. It would cost about $185M in local share to build that line.

If they were to use the 1/2 cent sales tax to fill the funding gap on the North Line that would be about $170M in local funds. So they can spend $185M and get a full service LRT line...or spend $170M to get a one way commuter rail that operates at peak hours. I don't think the mayors of the North Towns expect the MTC to sign off on that much local money for the North Line. I see the politically feasible cutoff for local share of the North Line at about $130M.

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Why the high cost for the North Line? It's my understanding that this is a Commuter Line, correct? Any way to build it "on the cheap" a la Nashville?

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At one point, Tober said the north line was the bi-directional plan. It gave me the impression they were using the lower cost alternative for the NE line (non-Tryon alignment) and the higher cost alternative for the N line (bi-directional commute).

Tober said it was the MTC's job to prioritize lines and if necessary, remove one. CATS would simply present the build-out for everything in the plan one way or the other.

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Why the high cost for the North Line? It's my understanding that this is a Commuter Line, correct? Any way to build it "on the cheap" a la Nashville?

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The cities have commited to building their own stations in the Northern towns. Charlotte has not made the same commitment to the 3 stations that are planned within the Charlotte city limits.

A correction to the comment made above: There are two phases only for the North line. The first phase would build a one way system. That is the trains would all start in the morning in Mt. Mourne and then travel one by one every 30 minutes to downtown. There would be no service in the other direction. Once rush hour was over, they would take a couple of the trains and run them back and forth a few times until the afternoon rush hour. Then they would do the reverse and run all the trains back to Mt. Mourne. There would be no service to downtown during this period.

Phase II adds two way service by adding the advanced signals and pullouts needed for this. They would presumably extend the route from Mt. Mourne to downtown Mooresville during this phase, though as noted in the MTC meeting, there is absolutely no commitment from Iredell or Mooresville for any financial support to do this.

The downside to the Phase I system is that downtown residents could not use it to commute to jobs in the North like Lowes, and people at the Lake could not use it to attend downtown events in the evening. By splitting the North line into 2 phases, they also add $100M to the costs to build this line by my calculations. It's the reason the numbers for this system look so bad, and why I say that CATS stacked the deck against it.

There is no similar stragegy for the University (Northeast) line. It will be all built at one time.

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I know that it is probably too late for this now...but I wonder what the ridership models would show if they ran LRT on the North Line instead of Commuter Rail. I know that it would probably cost $1.5B or so to build...so obviously this is pie in the sky...but I am curious to know.

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It's the reason the numbers for this system look so bad, and why I say that CATS stacked the deck against it.

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If they upped the amount they were willing to spend on it to get it to 12 minute response times, I think they would see a dramatic increase in the ridership numbers. This would mean double tracking, going with diesel electric light rail type vehicles, and I would drop the proposed station at Harris Blvd. There seems no point in that. Instead I would add a stations at Graham/Atando, another around Graham/24th st, and one possibly to serve the Greenville neighborhood. There is already a lot of people walking the streets there, and there is a big potential to develop this area, close to downtown, in a very desirable high density manner.

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EDIT: I thought you were talking about the LRT met. I was about to argue with not having a Harris station on it.

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If they upped the amount they were willing to spend on it to get it to 12 minute response times, I think they would see a dramatic increase in the ridership numbers. This would mean double tracking, going with diesel electric light rail type vehicles, and I would drop the proposed station at Harris Blvd. There seems no point in that. Instead I would add a stations at Graham/Atando, another around Graham/24th st, and one possibly to serve the Greenville neighborhood. There is already a lot of people walking the streets there, and there is a big potential to develop this area, close to downtown, in a very desirable high density manner.

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This sounds to me a lot like what the TTA was proposing in the Triangle. I think long term that what you presented is a good idea, but if the North towns want something to be built in the next few years I only see commuter rail as a realistic possibility due to our limited amount of money.

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What are the fundamental differences between lgiht rail and heavy rail in terms of service to commuters and why why would converting the existing heavy reail line toa light rail line be so expensive?

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