Shortly after I moved to Charlotte, it was decided that a half-cent would be added to the local sales tax to finance an ambitious plan to build several corridors of public transit. One would be built to the South, towards Pineville. One to the North, towards Davidson. Another to the Northeast, towards University City and UNCC. One to the West, towards the airport. And a final leg to the East/Southeast, towards Matthews.
This ambitious plan, for just a half-cent of each additional purchase, and perhaps a billion dollars total? Sounds enticing, yes? Where can we sign? As generally expected, the plan passed fairly easily. The problem is that, as with most plans, it didn't work out quite so easily.
Perhaps because the right-of-way was easily obtained, perhaps because the need was greatest, but for whatever reason, it was decided that the "Blue Line" would be built first. This was the line extending towards Pineville. Since the line made use of the corridor used by the trolley, and also existing rail lines, it should make development easier.
Unfortunately, the lines for the trolley needed to be upgraded, as did most of the rail lines. Bridges were built over busier roads like Tyvola, as they carried far more traffic than those nearer to the center city. As the budget grew, items were cut. The size of the platforms were downsized from being able to handle three-car trains to two cars, and the line itself didn't make it to Pineville. It didn't even get all the way to 485. All this with the intent of being able to hit the budget. Unfortunately, it was nowhere close. The Blue Line by itself cost nearly $500 million. Yes, one of five lines was nearly half of the original amount budgeted for the entire project.
The good news? No one knew how the light rail would do in Charlotte, but it was well received. The bad news? It was so well received, that the trains needed more capacity. Instead of two-car trains, they could really use those three-car models, but since the budget had cut out platforms that would support them, it would not cost even more to upgrade the stations than if they had been built that way in the first place. Oops.
So here we are, some six years after the first line opened, and... nothing.
It is generally accepted that there will be no train towards Matthews. It is unlikely that one will go the airport, and though this is the area of Charlotte that could probably use it the most, it probably makes sense. Our airport is busy, but much of the traffic there is just passing through. They don't really need a train. A high-speed busway - as originally planned (and not really used) for Independence - makes much more sense. Spending money on those who decide to move to Davidson or Huntersville seems like a waste on every study that has been done. It's not worthwhile.
The only option that does make sense? Continue the Blue Line on through Uptown and all the way to UNCC. Students probably will ride the train and into Charlotte, to see sporting events, and yes, to drink the night away. This will provide the best bang for the buck, and it will mean that they aren't drinking and driving. It will give a reasonable amount of traffic to the Music Factory, and it could spur development along North Tryon - an area that could use it.
So what is the problem? Lack of money. Charlotte wants to double the transit tax. That half cent levied some fifteen years ago isn't enough, so they want more. How about instead of giving the Panthers money, we don't. Sure, the amount of money is a pittance, but it's just one example. If every corporate handout and irresponsible tax credit wasn't done, maybe there wouldn't be a need to tack on an extra tax.