Thursday, February 16, 2012

Voters' commitment to transit pays off

Friday's Observer editorial:

It took more than four years, but Mecklenburg County voters were rewarded for their wisdom this week.

A surprisingly large majority of voters – 70 percent – made an unmistakable statement in November 2007 when they rejected an effort to repeal Mecklenburg’s half-cent sales tax for transit. With that commitment demonstrated, the nation’s top transit official this week announced a federal pledge of $70 million for Charlotte’s light-rail extension and a near-promise of $460 million more to come later.

That $530 million would pay half the cost of extending the Lynx Blue Line from uptown to UNC Charlotte, with the state and Charlotte Area Transit System splitting the other half. Nothing’s certain until final paperwork is signed, but Tuesday’s news could help shape Charlotte’s growth for decades to come.

The Blue Line, which currently runs from Pineville to uptown, would continue to UNCC by late 2017 or early 2018. That would connect the university, its 25,000 students and the surrounding area to uptown and its campus there. With gas currently pushing $4 a gallon and no sign of a return to cheap fuel, the line will be part of a system that gives commuters more options.

Done right, it can help reduce the number of cars on the road, cut emissions, spark development along the line and create jobs. While we’re skeptical that the North Tryon corridor will quickly attract development, the southern portion of the line showed that potential. Developers in the pre-recession days added hundreds of millions worth of projects along that corridor, driving up land values and tax collections.

The north line was originally planned to run to I-485. Planners later ended it at UNCC to save $92 million. It was a necessary move given the recession’s toll on the sales tax, but a regrettable one. A large park-and-ride station at I-485 would have attracted riders from across that part of the county.

CATS could still extend the line to I-485, or even farther into Cabarrus County and toward Verizon Amphitheatre and Charlotte Motor Speedway, which would attract riders. That can’t happen without more money, though. As the chart below shows, CATS has had to scale back its sales tax projections by more than $2 billion over 30 years. That not only shrunk the Blue Line but limits CATS’ ability to build more transit on other routes to the north, west and south.

Cabarrus County and others have the state’s permission to hold referendums on creating a quarter-cent sales tax for transit. And CATS will eventually have to look at other approaches, such as tax increment financing and other tax districts.

In the meantime, CATS can build public support for such moves by making sure the Blue Line extension is built on time and on budget, something it failed to do on its first try to the south.


Garth Vader said...

Where is the "wisdom" in another half-BILLION dollars of debt for our kids? Oh well, they'll be thrilled to be able to ride 19th-Century era transportation whose routes can't be adjusted to accommodate population shifts.

Dale Johnson said...

"While we’re skeptical that the North Tryon corridor will quickly attract development, the southern portion of the line showed that potential. Developers in the pre-recession days added hundreds of millions worth of projects along that corridor..."

At the time Parks Helms was telling county commissioners during a meeting that there had been $12 BILLION in TOD, which was a much of the campaign to keep the tax was hopeful lies its no wonder much of the public was tricked into voting for all this train madness. And some were threaten with loss of bus service if the tax were repealed. The public's 'wisdom" was manipulated.

Bob said...

There are currently 18 multi-family projects in various stages of construction or permitting within 4 blocks of the blue line, or the blue line extension in NoDa.

No where else in the state is as much development happening.


Think about the economic impact of this development.

Skippy said...

More lies about the real costs and lies about the economic benefits and the little lemmings are still basing this fraud on global warming just like you did last time. And the impact of traffic reduction will be so minimal, no one will be able to tell one bit of difference. And it's amazing, everytime this paper spews out made up numbers, they make it sound like it isn't the tas payers paying for this. It's "free" Obama money. Ah heck build it, how elese are the drunk kids going to get downtown to party?

How is that Scaleybark development working out?

Anonymous said...

Pledges and near promises to a swing state in an Obama election year. Oh how the Observer wants us to believe

Garth Vader said...


First off, no amount of alleged "economic development" is worth the cost of billions in debt being left to our children.

Secondly, the projects you mention are being further subsidized by tax dollars.

Thirdly, the economics of rail-oriented development are so bad that even developer Peter Pappas has stopped work on his Scaleybark station project despite already having received MILLIONS in taxpayer subsidies.

Transit is another transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich who sell the trains and build the tracks.

Anonymous said...

I depend on CATS, as I am visually impaired and unable to drive. So you would assume I would be all for every transit project. If so, you would be wrong. I am all for every transit project that is done sensibly.

The issue I had with the extra sales tax in 1998 - and I told everyone who would listen - is that government always uses faulty projections. Back in '98, we were told that the tax was to be in place for 25 years, and that it would bring in $1 billion in that time frame, and that the feds and state would match that. For $2 billion, we were told, we would have a train from 485 in the University area, through uptown, to 485 in Pineville, plus a streetcar line from uptown to the airport and enhanced bus service along Independence.

But guess what? The bureaucrats based those projections on the assumption that the sales tax revenue would NEVER decrease from 1 year to the next. Never mind that the US has a recession about once every 10 years. Never mind that the total $2 billion cost was in 1998 dollars, and that by 2015 the transit lines would cost double what they would have in 1998. Never mind that no one asked Pineville what they thought, and it turned out that they wanted nothing to do with it and thus forced the line to stop short of its intended final stop.

Now, here we are, 14 years after the tax was inacted, and we have half of 1 line, the other half sort of paid for, and 3 lines completely unfunded, likely never to be built. And when 2023 rolls around, we will hear the local politicians scream bloody murder that if the tax is not made permanent, the Earth will stop spinning on its axis and we will all die. Actually, they might start that up after the next election.

Anonymous said...

A segment of voters were bought off for their votes. Why do we see the seed for the streetcar accelerated by the city and the CO?