Thursday, February 04, 2010

'Differences of opinion' on transit plans

TRYON, N.C. - After the lunch break at the City Council retreat (great blackberry cobbler! - and yes, the Observer journalists pay for their own lunch) talk has turned to transportation.

Hard to blog and take notes and listen simultaneously, but lotta talk about concern in North Meck and on the MTC about whether the North transit line should have been built ahead of the NE line and the streetcar. Of course, no MTC money is being used to build the city's streetcar project, but, as City Manager Curt Walton said, at the recent Metropolitan Transit Commission meeting, city officials showed CATS data to prove that no CATS/MTC money going to the streetcar, "But they didn't believe it." He also cited what he said was "a legitimate difference of opinion" about whether the Northeast line or the North line should be moving forward next.

What Walton didn't say, but that savvy transit officials would, is that the Bush administration's rules on how to rate transit projects' cost-efficiency meant the North corridor did not qualify for any federal money, and the NE corridor just squeaked in by the skin of its teeth. If someone is to be bludgeoned about why the North corridor is not being built, folks might want to be looking toward the Federal Transit Administration and the previous administration. ( Note: The Obama administration has announced that it's changing those rules on how to rate transit projects.)

And CDOT director Danny Pleasant just now made that point, as I was typing the above. Neither the North Corridor nor the streetcar qualified for fed transit funds under the old rules. But things are changing.


Anonymous said...

The City should wake up and deliver a project with minimal costs and an area begging for it instead of waiting forever for the Billion + NE line which is 9-10 years out. Yes, sales tax revenue is down, however the MTC could move forward with the North line. The development community has plans for almost all of the transit stops and billions in investment would result. Drive up to Huntersville and see what developer AAC has already done at their mixed use development--moved the rail into their development of 450 acres.

consultant said...

Change we can believe in.

Now if we can just get a public option in health care.

Met with some folks last week about transportation. Charlotte, keep moving in the right direction. Which you are.

Don't act like Atlanta and let the rest of the state put the brakes on sensible transit policies.

JAT said...

The plain fact is -- cover your ears Mary -- that we need a new, affordable transit plan, not the pie-in-sky mess adopted in November 2006.

That one depended on 100K workers Uptown. Hands up who thinks that is still happening? Before you retire, I mean.

Here is reasonable, sane sketch of plan which actually attempts to move people, not re-develop land city staff wants re-developed:

Start ASAP with extending the Blue line to NoDa (along the existing railbed, as was 2/3rds of the South line, which helped to keep costs down.) Stop in NoDa, declare victory.

This leaves the insanely expensive part of the line to UNCC (and the bridges over massive intersections) undone. For now, perhaps forever, as BRT to NoDa MIGHT make much more sense. But whatever. Let's leave that fight.

At the same time you fold the streetcar BACK into the MTC/CATS framework. It should've never, ever been removed in early 2008. It was ONLY removed to make the line to UNCC SEEM affordable and keep and the North line alive. From there the streetcar competes with other transit projects on its RIDERSHIP merits.

On this point understand that Curt Walton et al are now defending the streetcar, addressing Northern town upset/realization that while the city of Charlotte can -- in theory -- float $20-30m. worth of idiocy at a time, the towns cannot. This has more to do with soothing Carroll Gray/lobbyist spin than anything real.

If the towns want to go it alone on the North line, let them. (Bet they'll ask the state for new vehicle fees to fund debt.) They'd be much better off converting it to a HOT/BRT option which MIGHT get federal funding. Otherwise a heavy rail option is just too expensive unless you presume endless federal support.

Finally, it MIGHT be the case that the Indy corridor to Matthews makes more sense to fund ahead of both the North line and the streetcar, given transit user profiles, especially if you stop at a big Park-and-Ride lot at Sharon Amity. In other words, throw everything open to a fresh look.

The bottomline -- the old McCrory Standard of staying within the half-cent and only with federal and state funding at least provided a bright line for our transit spending. Now we have something of a political free-for-all.

Best to sack-up, come up with a coherent, affordable plan given new realities and stop with the dogma and political gamesmanship.

Beautiful World said...

Who cares about the north line, that should be the last in-line for funds. It's commuter rail which is less likely to change lifestyle choices becuase of infrequent of peak train times.

Ideas4Charlotte said...

Why would you build a commuter rail line that will only further develop land out in the sprawling suburbs when you could revitalize the area along North Tryon St with a Light Rail line that stops more frequently and would be tied to more economic development opportunities?

J said...

Good grief Mary, is there any one problem in the entire universe you and other liberals won't blame on Bush?

Let me explain something to you liberal folks out there. I'll type slow so you can get it...


Please, please, please, can we PLEASE try to analyze and solve problems without retreating to the very old, very tired "EVERYTHING IS BUSH'S FAULT!!!" line? PLEASE????

What you have to ask about these transit lines is what you really want to accomplish. If the goal is simply to get the maximum number of vehicles off the road, the Northeast line comes in 3rd unless it goes to Concord. Both the North and Independence lines would get more cars off the road. The Northeast line, as currently proposed, won't do a thing to get cars off of I-85. If all you want to do is create population density, there's more potential in the North line than the other 2.

Mary Newsom said...

Um, J, you might want to dial back on the caffeine. I never said everything is Bush's fault. I pointed out the fact - check it, it's a fact - that Bush admin changed the way federal transit money is parceled out, and thus the North Line and the streetcar were not (and still aren't, as the rule hasn't changed yet) eligible for any federal money.

Anonymous said...

"Change we can believe in"

Now that is funny.

JAT said...

So to be clear, under Clinton administration standards the 4400 per day ridership of $400m. the North line would've gotten FTA funding?

I honestly do not know the answer to that.

Anonymous said...

Mary, I'll say it. Just about every problem we have can be blamed on the two Bush administrations, and the Reagan administrations before them. So little thought about the future; so much thought about the past. Fantastic at navel-gazing.

Rick said...


So do the towns pull out of the MTC in 2010? Why stay if the line is ready for construction but they'll never see their 1/2 cent money if they keep giving it to the MTC? Any idea how long the engineering plans are good on the shelf?

What are the odds they get some form of stimulus funds this year due to their sales pitch of 8500 jobs and being "shovel ready"?

Anonymous said...

Why do we need more light rail or a commuter train?

Anonymous said...

Folks forget that the MTC and sales tax also fund enhanced bus service to the northern towns, including express bus. If the northern towns drop out, the bus service also would disappear.