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Jul
2021
5

Cost jumps for Charlotte’s transportation and rail plan

An ambitious transit plan for the Charlotte region will cost more than city leaders estimated earlier this year.

Rail and bus rapid transit projects alone will cost $11.6 billion, a figure nestled on the high range of what a Charlotte advisory group estimated in December: somewhere between $8 billion to $12 billion, split between local and federal funding. Amanda Vandegrift, principal consultant at InfraStrategies LLC, presented an updated financial model to the Charlotte City Council on Monday.

Non-transit costs — for projects including greenways, as well as pedestrian and bicycle networks — could cost $1.9 billion, Vandegrift said.

The total price tag for now, $13.5 billion, is a preliminary assumption that could fluctuate depending on the timeline of individual transportation initiatives, federal funding grants and a controversial countywide tax, among other variables, over an 18-year construction period, she said.

City Manager Marcus Jones assured the Council that the proposed “1 cent for mobility tax” would still cover all projects within the Transformational Mobility Network, including the Red Line and Silver Line.

The countywide tax would begin in 2023, giving a buffer for the region to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, Vandegrift said. Of the $11.6 billion in projected transit costs, about $7 billion would be covered by sales tax revenue, with the rest from federal grants.

The transit tax will require approval from the General Assembly, and Mecklenburg County commissioners would need to approve putting the transit tax referendum on a future ballot.

The City Council did not take action on the tax or other parts of the plan on Monday. But Council member Braxton Winston reminded his colleagues the plan has failed to gain traction in north Mecklenburg, where leaders have adamantly opposed the tax.

Red Line opening date

The LYNX Red Line commuter rail — traversing Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville and center city Charlotte — has been touted as the hallmark of the interconnected mobility network.

It’s also one the thorniest part of the transit plan. Council member Tariq Bokhari on Monday said Charlotte’s plan was “dead in the water,” after Charlotte broke trust with the surrounding towns and Raleigh in the early planning stages.

North Mecklenburg leaders remain skeptical the transportation plan could benefit their residents, after waiting years to see the Red Line come to fruition. The company that controls rail tracks that’s seen as the best option for the Red Line has not signaled its intent to cooperate with city and county leaders for shared use.

But Vandegrift said the Red Line is expected to open in 2031 and cost $674 million, according to the transportation plan’s financial model.

The LYNX Silver Line would run from Matthews to north of uptown, then westward past the airport and across the Catawba River to Gaston County. The first phase would open in 2037, with the second phase opening in 2040, Vandegrift said.

Other planned openings include:

I-77 bus rapid transit in 2029

CityLNX Gold Line (phase 3) in 2033

LYNX Blue Line extension in 2041