Charlotte, Raleigh battle for transportation funds

To the frustration of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and other city residents, former Charlotte mayor and current Gov. Pat McCrory isn’t giving his hometown any special treatment.

North Carolina’s largest city, Charlotte, and its capital, Raleigh, are ensnared in a dispute involving money for two transportation projects in Charlotte.

The Charlotte City Council has asked the state government to fund 25 percent of an extension of the city’s Blue Line light rail.

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CHARLOTTE TRANSIT DISPUTE

Charlotte officials and N.C. lawmakers are engaged in a dispute about the city’s Blue Line light rail:

  • The state will provide part of the money for a light rail linking UNC-Charlotte’s campuses.
  • Council members have also proposed using property taxes to pay for a new streetcar system.
  • Lawmakers are questioning why the city needs state money for one proposal and not the other.

The extension would run from UNC-Charlotte’s main campus to its new uptown campus.

“It’s really beneficial because we have a lot of people who commute, and we already have a parking problem on campus,” said UNC-C sophomore Amanda Wilson.

The light rail extension will be funded using 50 percent federal grant money, 25 percent state money and 25 percent city money.

But the city is also considering building a streetcar that would link eastern Charlotte to the city’s west side.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said legislators were caught off guard by the streetcar proposal.
“We were getting mixed signals from the mayor about what priorities were,” he said.

Torbett said the state has to maximize benefits for all N.C. residents — using limited funds.

“The state is wondering, ‘If the city does indeed raise the money for the streetcar extension, then why are you asking us for $180 million for the Blue Line extension?’” said Charlotte city council member Andy Dulin.

The light rail project would cost the city $926 million, about $37.5 million per mile.

Some city council members have proposed raising property taxes to generate money for the streetcar — an idea particularly unpopular with McCrory and Dulin.

“As a Republican and as someone who has worked with McCrory, I am fighting it with everything I can because I do not want to raise taxes,” Dulin said.

Council member John Autry said the streetcar would provide transportation certainty to local developers.

The city needs to be proactive and demonstrate its commitment to the streetcar project to federal officials in order to garner financial support, he said.

The light rail dispute is an example of recurring tensions between Charlotte and Raleigh, said Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College.

The current conflict is project-specific, but it has likely been exaggerated because both McCrory and Speaker of the N.C. House Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, hail from the Charlotte area, he said.

Bitzer said conflicts often arise when the state government tries to exert more control in local areas.

“North Carolina has a history of state involvement in local issues and policies,” he said. “This is reflective of the state dictating to local government what they can and cannot do.”

Autry said any tensions are due to miscommunication.

“It’s tough to govern Charlotte from Raleigh,” Autry said. “That’s why we don’t have one state government that’s from the beach to the mountains. That’s why we have municipalities.”

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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