Comment and analysis on all things Charlotte

The Streetcar Sideshow

Anyone get the feeling the sudden local Republican interest in dissenting — ever so conditionally — from the city of Charlotte’s streetcar juggernaut is intended to be the opening salvo in city councilman Edwin Peacock’s 2011 run for mayor?

Peacock’s anti-juggernaut edit in the UPoR the other day was surely welcome. It made the point that the city will expend General Fund dollars to start construction on and operate a streetcar without any permanent source of funding. Only federal magic bean money of $25m. is getting this camel’s nose under the tent.


Peacock and fellow Republicans refuse to take a stand against the streetcar concept let alone the over-arching $9.5 billion transit plan we manifestly cannot afford. This is the original sin. This is the transit issue we should be debating. This is what we continue to duck as we have for the past four years now.

Remember, it was CATS high priest Ron Tober not transit-hating cavemen who declared that for five corridors of rail to converge on and serve Uptown there would have to be 100,000 jobs Uptown. Realistically the 2030 transit plan adopted in 2006 is now a 2040 transit plan, at best, given revenue constraints. Will there be 100K jobs inside 277 by then?

From January 2002 thru the jobs top of October 2008, Charlotte added 41,680 jobs according to the state employment commission, a 13 percent expansion across some of the boomingest years to ever boom. The city now has about 350,000 jobs, off 11,000 from the peak with at most 60,000 of them inside 277. In other words, only about 17 percent of the city’s jobs are in Uptown. For the 2030 plan to remotely make any sense going forward, one of two things have to happen.

One, an unholy percentage of the city’s jobs move inside 277. This is the received transit booster view. That if you tax the general populace and provide subsidized transit to central locations, economic activity will move there in response. Except that in the case of the current five-spoke plan it has to move three places at once — Uptown, along the North heavy rail line to the Northern towns, and up the LTR extension to UNCC. Ain’t gonna happen.

Two, the total number of jobs of the city increases such that around 20 percent of the workforce equals about 100,000. In other words, the city adds 150,000 jobs in the next 30 years to hit 500,000 in 2040. This is at least mathematically possible. Adding 5000 jobs a year is possible — Charlotte certainly did that and more during the boom times. From here it is clear that sticking to the 2030 projections is essentially an act of civic faith.

What is interesting though is that it is Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts who dared broach the topic of a new, reality-based transit plan in a fascinating Meck Times run down on the state of transit in Charlotte:

MTC Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts, also the chairwoman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, said that although the streetcar line recently received funding, it has not taken priority over the other projects. The MTC, the city and CATS have been seeking federal funding for all three projects.

“They qualify for different federal programs,” Roberts said. “We’ve been seeking grants on all three of those. If we had the sales tax revenue, we could be working on all three of those at the same. But we don’t.”

When it comes to deciding which projects will get priority when it comes to receiving federal funds, Roberts said the MTC will be discussing and re-evaluating the timeline of the original plan. … “With the sales tax revenues down, we cannot keep to the original timeline,” she said. “There is the possibility that the five-spoke plan may have to be amended or changed after we look at the funding.”

Jennifer, look at the funding now. Look at the overall economic picture now. This streetcar stuff is surely madness — but it is just a symptom of an underlying sickness. Like syphillis or heavy drug use. Or belief in false idols.

Update: Here’s the Pundit House account of the 6-5 vote to snatch the magic beans and run, including this almost parody from Mayor Anthony Foxx:

“The truth of the matter,” said Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat and one of the streetcar’s biggest boosters, “is that for this community to build out a transit system we”re going to have to deploy large amounts of money to build infrastructure, on the belief that that infrastructure is going to translate into investment.”

Deploy large amounts of money to build infrastructure, on the belief that that infrastructure is going to translate into investment.

Transit is not a project in Charlotte, it is a religion.

Oh, and Malcolm Graham and the Johnson C. Smith crowd were pretty damn shameless. I might be too if I knew I had the votes and nothing could stop me.

3 Responses to “The Streetcar Sideshow”

  • Jul

    Or belief in false idols.

    OK, dude, I’m gonna have to file a grievance with the local shop steward if you’re gonna violate union rules and take to preaching without a license. But in this case, you may have gone from preaching to meddling, as they say! :)

  • Jul

    Jeff, you really give too much credit to Meck GOP leadership if you think that’s the reason why. StrengthenCharlotte was out in front of opposing streetcar dating back several months ago:!/note.php?note_id=341739473902

  • Jul

    Not only does the streetcar use general funds, breaking a promise not to go outside the transit tax, but now that we’ve pulled the streetcar out of the 2030 plan, no transit tax money should be spent on it, but we have shut down the $40-60 mil trolley and the four refurbished/bought trolley cars, CATS/transit tax assets, will be use for the streetcar. An incorrect mixing of assets and sources of funds…..oh, and the rail work already done on Elizabeth street was done with CATS money, if I understand correctly…..

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