Extension Costs Rise
The costs of the city of Charlotte's 2.5-mile streetcar extension route have risen by $24 million, The Charlotte Observer reported on September 4. The total now is $150 million but could climb even higher if the city orders modern streetcars with off-wire capability. The starter line will be operated by Gomaco-built double-truck Birneys that were displaced from part of the Lynx light rail route for budget reasons.
The city is considering the creation of a new taxing district along the route to help cover operating costs.
Property owners along the line could find property taxes increasing. A piece of real estate valued at $500,000 could pay an extra $100 annually to fund operations.
The City Council was scheduled to vote soon to apply for federal funding to cover half of the extension’s costs.
The 2.5-mile extension would connect the starter line from Time Warner Cable Arena to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.
The streetcar project has been one of the city’s most controversial projects, which council members narrowly endorsed in May 2013.
Of the $24 million cost increase, the largest component is $15.3 million due to inflation. Additionally the Hawthorne Lane bridge over Independence Boulevard needs to be replaced at a cost of $6.8 million. Miscellaneous costs would add $1.9 million, including increased paving costs.
If the city opts for modern streetcars with off wire capabiity, which would allow avoiding overhead wires at the intersection of Trade Street and Tryon Street, that would add $500,000 to the purchase price of each car.
Operating costs for the first two phases are estimiated at $6.2 million annually.
Farebox revenue could contribute $1.5 million; th eproposed tax district along the line could add $1.2 million. Additionally motor vehicle license fee revenue could contribute $3.2 million and selling naming rights and advertising could add $293,000.
The starter line using the replica streetcars on hand is planned to open next year. The extension would open two years later.
Heritage Streetcar Plans
The Charlotte Observer also reported on September 5 about plans to bring Charlotte's last first-generation streetcar, No. 85, back into service. The car, restored by enthusiasts starting in 1987 after years of non-transit use, inaugurated the rebirth of urban rail transit in Charlotte operating along part of the future light rail route. It was later replaced by three Gomaco replica trolleys running on the inner stretch of the light rail line from uptown to Atherton Mill. Budget restrictions ended this service in 2010.
The car has been stored in the transit agency shop since then but needs to leave later this year as the space is needed for the light rail system. What has emerged is a proposal for a new heritage streetcar line with a nonprofit suggesting the use of car 85 on state-owed track. The North Carolina DOT Rail Division thinks it's a good idea if funding is secured for the project,
After being mothballed another 10 years, No. 85 may be brought out of retirement again – with a goal of generating a energy similar to that the car inspired in the South End to the city’s westside.
A nonprofit group of trolley enthusiasts called Lakewood Trolley Inc. is working to get the car returned to service on an abandoned stretch of former streetcar track.
The route would run from Cedar Street in uptown’s Third Ward two miles northwest to the 29-acre Martin Luther King Jr. Park in what some are now calling the Historic West End community. It would run along the county-owned Stewart Creek Greenway.
Allan Paul, the division’s deputy director said “We’d like to see a rail use for it again. This group has certainly demonstrated that they can pull something like this off – like they did in South End.”
Lakewood Trolley will have the task of finding funding to upgrade the track and rebuild a trestle along the line.
Estimates are $2 million to $3 million, said Greg Pappanastos, president of Argos Real Estate Advisors who chairs the Lakewood Trolley board. “This is not about transit. We’re not looking to run people from point A to point B on a tightly defined schedule,” he said. “This is about heritage tourism, about running an old Charlotte relic – an original Charlotte streetcar – on an original streetcar line through original streetcar neighborhoods.“We believe it can drive economic and neighborhood development on the West End, and enhance the parks and greenways along the way.”