Innovative Financing Points the Way Ahead for a Rail Project in Charlotte

RLRR Corridor Map

» In addition to transit-oriented development, Charlotte’s planners envision a system that appeals to freight users.

In the case of Charlotte, necessity may be the mother of invention.

Lacking sufficient revenues to construct the planned Red Line commuter railroad designed to connect Center City Charlotte with its northern suburbs, planners working for local transit agency CATS have developed a unique vision for its financing.

The $452 million upgrade of the existing Norfolk Southern O Line would allow a significant expansion of capacity not only for passenger trains, but also for freight trains running on the same tracks. In doing so, this agency’s planners are suggesting that the sometimes rivalry between the two types of transportation should really be approached hand-in-hand, especially for a project whose primary right-of-way extends far beyond dense urban neighborhoods that characterize the zones around most successful transit links. Perhaps for the first time so directly, transit-oriented development is proposed to

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In Charlotte, a Busy Highway May be No Place for Rapid Transit

Red Line 63rd

» A recommendation from the Urban Land Institute suggests pulling a proposed rail line out of a highway and onto a neighborhood street.

Take one trip on the Dan Ryan branch of Chicago’s Red Line and you’ll be convinced of the perils of locating transit stations in the medians of fast-moving expressways. Getting to stops is hard enough: It usually requires crossing first a huge intersection featuring cars hopping on and off the freeway; then, on too small of a sidewalk you’re required to bridge over several lanes of rushing traffic below. Once you’re finally on the platform, though, the situation may be worse: Cars are whizzing by at high speeds — producing tremendous noise and emitting nauseating pollutants — on both sides of the track. It’s certainly not a welcoming experience.

Fundamentally, standing there at a station waiting for a train makes you feel like you are a second-class citizen

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Charlotte’s Once Ambitious Rapid Transit Plan Faces Budget Ax

Charlotte Rapid Transit Plans Map

» A significant decline in local sales tax revenue means that long-term plans for transit expansion have had to be reevaluated with an eye towards fiscal reality.

Ridership on Charlotte’s transit system has grown substantially over the past ten years, increasing from an average of 39,100 daily users in 2000 to 103,500 in 2010. This successful ramp-up in public transportation use in one of the nation’s most sprawling regions can be traced to the 1998 passage by voters of a 1/2-cent sales tax for transportation funding; this measure allowed the local transit authority CATS to significantly expand the number and frequency of bus services offered, and construct North Carolina’s first light rail line, which opened in 2007.

That Blue Line was supposed to be joined by a network of six other corridors — light rail, commuter rail, streetcar, or bus rapid transit — radiating from Center City

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When the Recession Strikes, Little Maneuvering Room for Better Transit

Proposed Entrance to the University of Washington Link Station

» Seattle’s large rail expansion program will be delayed thanks to a decline in local tax revenues. The sales tax comes back to bite.

The recession has not been kind to transportation agencies anywhere in the country. The loss of local revenues from dedicated taxes has in many places required agencies to reduce bus and rail operations — even with the significant aid that accompanied the 2009 Stimulus bill. But long-term consequences have been even more problematic for the hundreds of expansion plans either under construction or planned; in metropolitan areas from Dallas to Denver, previously funded projects have been put on hold.

Seattle’s Sound Transit is the most recent to announce its own problems: Last week, the agency revealed that its fifteen-year estimates for revenue collection established just two years ago would be 25% lower than expected. This means that a once $18 billion proposal to extend the region’s

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Regional Transportation Authorities are not Necessarily the Solution to the Urban-Suburban Divide

Rosa Parks Transit Center

» Developing common goals is more productive than forcing a merger of regional transportation agencies. An authority for Detroit comes closer.

If there’s anything Detroit needs most, it may be regional cooperation, where it finds itself distinctively behind the times. While some major cities like New York or San Francisco are large and wealthy enough to be able to close themselves off politically from the surroundings, Michigan’s largest metropolis benefits from neither of those characteristics, so it must find ways to make agreements with nearby municipalities.

Frequently mentioned is the idea of a regional transportation district, which would coordinate funding and spending activities at the metropolitan scale. A proposal for one is currently being considered in the Michigan legislature. But it’s not clear that the creation of such an agency will resolve some of the structural issues complicating politics in this metropolis.

The biggest problem is the metropolitan area’s racial and class

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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