Wednesday, March 25, 2009

McCrory questions CATS stimulus plans

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory isn't happy with the federal stimulus package. The money for highways is too little, he thinks, and what money has been allocated is being spent on projects that are too small and inconsequential.

McCrory Wednesday switched gears, questioning how the Charlotte Area Transit System plans to spend its roughly $20 million in stimulus dollars. McCrory thinks the money should be dedicated towards one of the system's big projects - perhaps the north corridor commuter rail line or the streetcar. CATS chief executive Keith Parker wants to spend it on rehabbing a bus maintenance garage, sprucing up the main bus station across from Time Warner Cable Arena and expanding some park-and-ride lots.

At Wednesday's meeting of the Metropolitan Transit Commission, McCrory asked about the bus garage. Parker said money to improve the garage used to be in the budget, but was taken out. McCrory's response, in so many words: That might mean it's not important.

Parker admitted the garage isn't a "sexy" project. But he said the nearly 30-year-old building is in dire need of improvement. It's difficult to heat and cool, he said, and improving the building will allow CATS to perform more maintenance on-site, saving money.

It should be noted that transit systems nationwide often spend freely to expand and then neglect their infrastructure. Then when everything starts breaking, they are broke. So Parker's plans are prudent, though not exciting.

But the discussion came minutes after a curious presentation from the engineering firm URS. It is lobbying CATS to build a short streetcar line from the arena to Presbyterian Hopsital. URS - apparently hungry for work - said the starter streetcar line would cost $30 million. CATS already has laid tracks on Elizabeth Avenue, so if it spent stimulus dollars, it would only need $10 million extra.

Parker recommended against it. One reason: The line wouldn't go very far, and CATS would have to spend $1 million to operate it.

But here's another idea. CATS laid tracks on Elizabeth Avenue that aren't being used. Why couldn't CATS install more streetcar track in phases but not operate it until it has a line long enough to span across uptown?


Anonymous said...

What about using Tober's trolleys on the URS-proposed starter-route from CTC to Presby?

Since about the same distance or less than what the trolley now covers from 7th to Tremont, that should save money and actually serve new riders.

Kyle Merville said...

Sadly, the trolley cars that are used on the light rail tracks had to have special permission (and large headways) to even operate on the light rail tracks. The reason? Collisions. The feds say that they cannot operate in a mixed traffic situation so CATS would have to purchase new vehicles to run in that location.

I am all for just finding this money and building this segment right now. There is a very pressing need and it will serve the heaviest bus routes in the city with increased service.

Anonymous said...

Once you need new vehicles, you need a special maintenance facility. Where would you locate that, if only going between CTC and Presby?

Seattle's streetcar has a facility located off a short non-revenue branch line and right next to brand new condos. Maybe it doesn't have to be directly on the route, but I'm guessing on vacant land in close proximity.

Rick said...

This type of comment smells of CATS setting up another switcheroo.

$20m mentioned here + $20m earmarked for the Northeast extension engineering completion if the April estimates come in ridiculously high (which they will) + possible additional funds from the stimulus plus and suddenly the North Corridor commuter rail is doable.

McCrory has always shown a total disregard for the Northern towns. The fact that he mentioned this as a favored option of his is very interesting.

Anonymous said...

The North Towns haven't exactly put their money where their mouths are. How about closing the gap with some station-area TIFF? And how should Iredell and Mount Mourne get away with paying nothing?

Steve said...

I think TIF funds are in the thinking in the north, including Iredell County. Davidson is talking with developers about making the station there part of a mixed-use facility. I'm not sure what is going on with Cornelius right now. Huntersville seems to most negative, but a lot of that is motivated by the priority to get something done about improving NC 73, which is a worthy project for the area. Once 73 is being taken care of, possibly Huntersville will get on board the rail project. There were 3 stations projected for Huntersville, but maybe one of them could be scrapped from the project to get it going.