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Charlotte Area Transit System Long Term Transit Plan

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In any case...the funding for the North Commuter Rail engineering is on the Charlotte City Council's Feb 11th Agenda.

This seems to be a recurring theme with Tucker Mitchell's columns anytime a vote is coming due on the North Line...make it sound like the North is going to lose their funding and then the vote comes and its not even close. His "sky are falling" antics have become rather tired.

Right now the only person on the council that I think will vote against funding for the North Line is Mayor Pro Tem Burgess. Everyone else seems to be on board with it.

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The Charlotte Observer is suggesting that it will take CATS two years, starting from March, to do enough engineering work to determine if the FTA will pay for the NE extension or not. The Charlotte city council apparently approved some money to begin this engineering work. So assuming they get all the required funding, then this suggests they will apply to the FTA in 2010 and may possibly get a decision for the 2011 budget bill, but more likely it will happen in 2012. (unless the FTA is radically changed by the next administration)

Interestingly enough Bush announced last night that he was writing an executive order that will essentially end all congressional earmarks starting next year. (After he leaves office) Whether this remains or not is another matter but his successor might have a hard time resending this order. While this is immediately good for CATS because the earmark for this year to fund the above engineering work remains in place, it does mean the rest of the requested amount needed for the above engineering work may never be forth coming from the Feds.

Charlotte may have to eventually figure out how to fund the NE line without Federal funding.

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Charlotte may have to eventually figure out how to fund the NE line without Federal funding.

Unless we end up with a transit-friendly government between now and then.

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The sales tax isn't the only revenue source for CATS, there is also the Charlotte city 'continuation of effort' payments that are ~$25m and a similar payment from Mecklenburg county, which might then get split proportionally between the Charlotte Transit and the North Meck transit.

I think it would very contentious if it does turn out that way but it seems like it is a possibility, otherwise there wouldn't be so much energy spent pandering to the North. There has been a consistent assessment that if the NE line doesn't become eligible for federal funds, it would be canceled, yet the North line, with only 4000 estimated riders, is still being pursued without federal funds.

It would seem that Charlotte would be able to survive without the revenues from the towns, but it would be a very different transit system, and would likely not be as good a system in the long run.

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^The biggest loss would the the unified front in getting the NCDOT, i.e, the NC Legislature, to continue to pay 25% of the system. It will be much more difficult for Charlotte to go it alone without the support of the surrounding communities.

And on the FTA front, the Metro folks in DC where stunned this week when they found out the FTA has decided to turn down a long planned extension out to Dullas airport. That was a major project that has been in the works for years, would add a lot more stops to the system, and would connect DC directly to it's International Airport. (really needed there). Yet the numbers all of a sudden didn't work and the feds downgraded the ranking of the system. It's not completely played out because there are some national politics at play, but it is a very good demonstration that having a running system (and the Metro carries 800,000+ riders/day) is no guarantee the feds will fund extensions. Not at least with the current rules which are basically designed to keep these things from being built.

The moral of the DC story is that because the South LRT is operating, there are no guarantees the Feds will pay for an extension.

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They way I understood it is that earmarks in and of themselves are not eliminated, just that if they are going to happen they need to be voted on.

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The moral of the DC story is that because the South LRT is operating, there are no guarantees the Feds will pay for an extension.

Certainly that is the moral. It seems that the FTA's problems are that they doubt that Wash Metro can afford to pay for this extention in light of all the other capital projects needed in their system to keep it running and up to date. It seems they are saying DC Metro should focus of spending capital money to refurbish their current system before expanding.

My takeaways from the DC Metro Extention with respect to the Blue Line Extention:

1) Don't let project costs spiral out of control (the Metro extention is now estimated at $5B)

2) Make sure you have secure financial backing (as long as we keep NCDOT and 1/2 Cent Sales Tax I think we'll be ok)

3) Don't let the rest of your system fall into disrepair like the FTA claims Wash Metro has done.

I think there is hope that we will secure Fed Funding for the Blue Line Extention. Recently the FTA just awarded Norfolk a FFGA for their LRT project called The Tide and they got this FFGA under the new stricter rules.

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....

My takeaways from the DC Metro Extention with respect to the Blue Line Extention:

1) Don't let project costs spiral out of control (the Metro extention is now estimated at $5B)

2) Make sure you have secure financial backing (as long as we keep NCDOT and 1/2 Cent Sales Tax I think we'll be ok)

3) Don't let the rest of your system fall into disrepair like the FTA claims Wash Metro has done......

To be fair, the DC Metro is a heavy rail system with much higher specs than Charlotte's light rail and is the second busiest system in the USA (after NYC). It exists due to a complicated arrangement between the Federal government, Virginia, Maryland, DC the local municipalities and has no dedicated funding setup for it. It is, in effect, the federal government's transit system and they are in part responsible for keeping it up which they often fail to do. Despite all of that, they were only asking for $900M from the FTA which is roughly the cost of what I think the NE LRT will end up being. That is not that much money for a 22.5 mile heavy rail line through a corridor with 250,000 people and numerous fortune 500 companies.

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I don't know if anyone has seen this yet but there is an article on the CBJ today about bringing the Streetcar system forward. No dates are mentioned for when if it does indeed get brought forward but I am hopeful that we may be in a for a street car way before the originally planned 2018 - maybe if we're lucky we'll see something by 2012. Anyway, for anyone interested in the article here is the link:

http://charlotte.bizjournals.com/charlotte...2706000^1587987

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Sounds like this is a district Charlotte city council person looking to raise taxes city wide so that a street car could be built in his district. We had a poll here at UP where asked if you would support more taxes to build out the transit system earlier and I believe the vote was against that.

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I don't think that the city would support another tax. The only thing that could possibly be done would be raising the 1/2 cent sales tax up to a full cent and that would affect the entire county and the other towns would not support that since the streetcar would not be used by them.

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The city could have streetcar tax districts for those properties directly impacted by the proposed lines. I believe Atlanta is looking into such a plan. That would avoid the tax being spread citywide.

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I love this idea. CATS/MTC seem to be politically opposed to corridors that stay in dense areas because they don't serve consituencies of multiple voting members. I'm not sure if Turner is proposing taking over the whole project, or whether he is just proposing funds to cover bonds to speed it up, but keep the core bond repayment in the CATS budget.

I completely support TIF or STIF structures to help either fund speeding up lines, but also building lines altogether. I actually think most lines should be funded this way, with corridors voting to apply the taxes and thus getting the lines (or other infrastructure, really). I think this is the only fair way to go in an era where the FTA will not support as many lines.

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I love this idea. CATS/MTC seem to be politically opposed to corridors that stay in dense areas because they don't serve consituencies of multiple voting members. I'm not sure if Turner is proposing taking over the whole project, or whether he is just proposing funds to cover bonds to speed it up, but keep the core bond repayment in the CATS budget.

I completely support TIF or STIF structures to help either fund speeding up lines, but also building lines altogether. I actually think most lines should be funded this way, with corridors voting to apply the taxes and thus getting the lines (or other infrastructure, really). I think this is the only fair way to go in an era where the FTA will not support as many lines.

Yes, yes, yes. This is the way to go. A county-wide transit sales tax increase would almost certainly not fly with the voters (especially for a central Charlotte line), and there are other county-wide road & school needs as well, so it's best to avoid that. I believe the city (not MTC or Mecklenburg) could get an initial phase going with a combination of city property taxes, and local tax districts, a TIF or BID arrangement, along the corridor. It is good to hear Foxx mention this as a possibility worth exploring:

He also mentions the potential for special tax districts in the areas served by the streetcar as well as tax-increment financing. A range of ideas needs to be explored, Foxx stresses.

Going it alone, the city would not have to deal with the MTC's politics, and could actually benefit the 2030 plan by taking a first streetcar phase "off the books" of the transit tax. It would also help reduce CATS operating budget by eliminating those bus lines along Central and Beatties Ford.

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Living in this very corridor over in Biddleville by JCSU, I would be okay with some sort of local corridor tax that would help get the project up and running. Relying on the FTA, County wide taxes or the state to free up cash this project is only ever going to delay the thing.

I agree with you ChiefJoJo that the city doing this alone would be of great benefit in lowering Cats operating budget and avoiding MTC's issues. Plus once the system is up and running then I would guess that the remaining Streetcar lines wouldn't be too far behind in consturction after the city/MTC/CATS etc see the significant benefits that this first segment would bring.

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Former state DOT Secretary Sam Hunt today proposed an urban congestion relief fund for Charlotte, Triad and Triangle regions, as well as funds for other rail improvements.

The fund would provide a total of $1.909 billion to finance rail, port and public transportation projects over the next 12 years:

-- $1.621 billion to cover up to 25 percent of capital costs for urban transit projects in the Triangle, Charlotte and Triad areas, with each region limited to 33 percent of the total

-- $80 million in state aid for rail access to the state ports

-- $80 million for Class 1 freight railroads

-- $58 million for short-line freight railroads

-- $20 million for statewide bus grants to local governments

-- $20 million to expand intercity passenger train service

The urban grants could provide the state's share for a total of $6.5 billion in transit projects by 2020. Hunt said that would provide the state's part of pending or proposed rail and bus improvements in the three urban areas.

Keep in mind this is only a proposal from a subcommittee chair (but one of some stature), and would still have to be supported by the overall committee and then be approved by the legislature, which convenes in May. My guess is that the poltical will may not be there in an election year for the GA to pass this, but that there could be some momentum in 2009 after the next Governor is in office, and sets his/her priorities.

Nevertheless, it's a positive development towards a more progressive NC transportation funding policy, and if something like this passed, it could fund 25% of the North, NE, and streetcar lines by 2020. Currently, there is no existing committed funding revenue stream to provide matching funds for urban rapid transit projects, so this could be it or look something like this.

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That would be great for the state legislature to pass guaranteed funding for mass transit and rail lines. Like you said though, good luck getting any kind of budget increases in an election year.

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That would be great for the state legislature to pass guaranteed funding for mass transit and rail lines. Like you said though, good luck getting any kind of budget increases in an election year.

Indeed. What is missing from that of course is a plan to fix the transportation funding inequity formula that has caused the shortfall in the first place.

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Indeed. What is missing from that of course is a plan to fix the transportation funding inequity formula that has caused the shortfall in the first place.

Mr. Hunt is a part of the Intermodal Committee studying NC transportation needs, so all they are charged with are mass transit & rail options... the full committee will make a recommendation for funding solutions that will encompass roads, rail, transit, and other needs in a comprehensive document by May. Again, this is only the rail/transit piece, and only a proposal at this time, but at least something is out there, and to my knowledge it's the first dedicated transit funding proposal ever in NC. In reality, it's a modest proposal, but one that could eventually gain some traction. There will be some highway proposals coming out as well that may or may not address the equity formula (which only applies to highways). Again, I would not suspect you will see major changes in a major election year. Most lawmakers will be very willing to wait until the new Governor takes office in January 2009.

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On a subject I don't recall us really talking about before, how do CATS and MTC plan and adjust for recession? It seems likely that the economy overall will have a recession, which is leading up to the years when they plan to build both the most expensive corridor to University City and a line without federal assistance to North Meck. Would a recession, lowering retail sales and proceeds from the 1/2c sales tax, lead to delays for those lines?

I am sure they have some basis for accounting for recessions over the course of the 2030 year plan, perhaps with lower growth rates of the tax proceeds expected, but what do they do when that recession hits right before their most expensive outlay period?

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The Hydrail Guy (I forget his name) spoke at the City Council meeting this week. He was promoting the idea of making the Center City Streetcar project be the first Hydrogen Fuel Cell Streetcar in the USA. It could potentially lower the cost of the line since you would not have to put up poles and catenary wires.

He also said that Mooresville is looking to entice the Colorado manufacturer of hydrogen rail vehicles to locate their USA manufacturing facility in the Charlotte area.

This could potentially be another green iniative by CATS that could bring in more jobs to the area just like the DesignLine Hybrid bus contract they signed last year that is bringing their North American manufacturing facility to the area.

More info here: http://www.hydrail.org/

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Not having caternaries would be good for costs and aesthetics (especially at Trade and Tryon, which I truly worry about how it will look with overhead wires), it seems that the North line would be a better candidate for the hydrogen than the much shorter streetcar line.

Hydrogen is basically an in inefficient battery for electricity, using electricity from the grid to convert treated drinking water from the pipes into hydrogen and oxygen, with the hydrogen then recombining with the air to emit water. However, the water out the pipe is not planned for storage for returning back to the drinking water system. It isn't terrible since it goes back into the natural water cycle in the big picture, but it still will create an industrial consumption point for our drinking water.

In the next generation automobile debates, hydrogen has fallen way out of the lead for viability, with plug in hybrids and electrics being seen as a very good option for using the electricity that is pretty much the fuel used for the hydrogen process. Batteries or direct electric connection are also less likely to blow up a train full of people.

It isn't a terrible idea, especially if it helps to draw some jobs here. But a direct electricity connection is really the best drivetrain out there, and trumps plug in hybrids and hybrids and others. Now, if they can come up with a low cost wireless energy source that acts like a human-safe 3rd rail, then that would trump caternaries. But I don't think wireless energy is practical beyond the just cellphone battery charging.

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The Hydrail Guy (I forget his name) spoke at the City Council meeting this week. He was promoting the idea of making the Center City Streetcar project be the first Hydrogen Fuel Cell Streetcar in the USA. It could potentially lower the cost of the line since you would not have to put up poles and catenary wires.

He also said that Mooresville is looking to entice the Colorado manufacturer of hydrogen rail vehicles to locate their USA manufacturing facility in the Charlotte area.

This could potentially be another green iniative by CATS that could bring in more jobs to the area just like the DesignLine Hybrid bus contract they signed last year that is bringing their North American manufacturing facility to the area.

More info here: http://www.hydrail.org/

That is awesome! I am really glad that we at least have the option at this point in time to look at alternatives, and maybe come out using the first of this type of infrastructure. I agree, I'd really like to see North Line use some form of hydro-electric or what not. Maybe we're jumping this line and not researching what's even better for the future, but I'm glad this was brought up for the streetcar, although honestly, I sort of like the traditional electric overhang wire., just something about it. I'd feel like if it were hydrogen fuel cell, then there would be no point in adding the tracks and just make them buses.

Great news about Mooresville, also. That's jobs and technology coming close to home.

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