Charlotte reintroduces transit plan that’s sparse on financials and divides council

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 5:48 PM EDT
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte city staffers, financial consultants and regional leaders unveiled a rebranding of the city’s Transformational Mobility Network during the city council retreat on Tuesday. Despite the new effort, some of the same issues on messaging and costs plagued the rollout.

Chief among the debates between council members was how to properly market the mobility plan. Funding the TMN would require a new one-cent sales tax in Mecklenburg County, which needs approval from the North Carolina General Assembly and Mecklenburg County voters.

Opposition to the TMN from towns in northern Mecklenburg County previously sunk hopes of its aspirations before COVID and delayed census information made a city election, and a sales tax referendum, in November 2021 impossible.

During the council retreat, City Manager Marcus Jones made it clear that the new approach to the TMN would be focused on the region and not just Charlotte.

“Part of the strategy has been to build a coalition on the front end as opposed to Charlotte trying to, let me choose my words carefully here, impose something on the rest of the region,” Jones said.

To that extent, Councilmembers Tariq Bokhari and Braxton Winston proposed that the Intergovernmental Relations Committee they co-chair start developing a strategy to reach out and connect with regional and state leaders about the TMN.

Republican Councilman Ed Driggs voted in favor of the motion, noting there did not appear to be support from the NCGA the last time they went down this path.

“The people that control these things are frankly not on-board in my opinion,” Driggs said.

The motion passed in a strange circumstance where Councilman Matt Newton left the room, which automatically meant he was a recorded “yes” vote.

When council reconvened, there was a new vote and Newton voted “no”, torpedoing Bokhari and Winston’s motion.

Afterward, Bokhari tweeted “Members of the #NCGA and elected’s of the surrounding towns, the #CLTCC just pulled a sketchy fast one at our retreat to not allow us to actually work directly with you on the transit plan.”

Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt and other councilmembers said they were not opposed to Bokhari and others talking with General Assembly members but wanted to work out more details from the plan before solidifying the city’s approach.

“I just don’t think we should move onto the next phase of engagement until we all fully understand, until we can answer those questions amongst us I don’t know how we can move on,” Eiselt said.

The plan that Charlotte staffers unveiled on Tuesday did not include a new cost estimate for the TMN, which was previously guesstimated at $13.5 billion. A previous WBTV Investigation showed the price tag could be $20 billion, including paying for loans and upkeep.

The lack of a new cost estimate was significant because the city also adjusted the proposed split of project funding from 90/10 to 80/20 for Transit (light rail, buses) and Transportation (roads, greenways). No explanation was given as to how the expensive light rail projects would be paid for with the new split.

The city also adjusted the timeline for completion of some of the major projects with LYNX Red Line being pushed from 2031 to 2033. The schedule of these projects previously presented in June was accompanied with price tags but the presentation on Tuesday did not include costs.

  • LYNX Red Line: 2033
  • LYNX Blue Line Extension: 2041
  • LYNX Blue Line Core Capacity: 2032
  • LYNX Silver Line Phase A: 2035
  • LYNX Silver Line Phase B: 2039
  • 1-77 Bus Rapid Transit: 2030
  • Bus Priority Corridors: 2029
  • Envision My Ride: 2026

The new schedule for the TMN would be a vote on a sales tax referendum in November 2022.

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