CHARLOTTE – Charlotte City Council members need more information from their planning staff before deciding whether to start pre-project development on the proposed LYNX Silver Line.
Council members had lots of questions for the city’s planning staff about funding for the project. Pre-project development will cost $50 million, which will come from the Charlotte Area Transit System budget and current sales taxes. CATS Deputy Director John Muth said $9 million is programmed in the current fiscal year, so they would start off with a task order for $9 million with a consultant and would be executing different task orders each year. There will be check-in points with the council and the Metropolitan Transit Commission about progress and findings.
According to planning staff, pre-project development is necessary to work with CATS to refine the “locally preferred alternative,” advance the design and cost estimate, complete the Environmental Impact Statement, coordinate with third parties like NCDOT and use public involvement for the project.
After pre-project development, they would move forward into project development and engineering to eventually start construction.
Many council members were concerned about voting to start pre-development with the absence of a definitive cost for the entire project and concrete federal and state funding.
“We’re at the point where we’re actually going to spend $50 million and we still haven’t addressed the issue of what the big-picture solution for funding this looks like,” Councilman Ed Driggs said.
Muth said voting to move forward with pre-project development will make it easier to figure out the big-picture solution.
“We see this as a key step to help us develop the capital cost estimate that can then inform the whole financial plan, including what type of assumptions get made in terms of federal and state [funding],” Muth said.
According to City Manager Marcus Jones, the phases of development are not unique to Charlotte. Every municipality is required to go through these phases, including pre-project development, in order to get federal funds. He said once the project gets to the 30% mark of pre-project when designing, they will have a better idea of the total cost.
Muth said planning staff would not recommend moving forward from pre-project development to project development until the full funding picture of the project was known.
Councilman Tariq Bokhari said the lack of information and conversation about the topic among city council makes him hesitant to vote on the matter in two weeks at the next meeting Oct. 28.
“Ultimately, we’re going to get to a point where we run out of money and we don’t know where to go because we haven’t had these conversations and we’re going to look back and it’s going to be a long way back to where we started,” Bokhari said.
Bokhari, who represents District 6, also said until those conversations are had, he thinks moving this forward is “incredibly reckless.”
Council members agreed with Bokhari’s sentiment. At-large representative James Mitchell said he would have liked to see options presented to the city’s transportation committee to feel reassured that the current line was the best option.
“I truly believe we have to do a Silver Line because I think public transit is the way to go,” Mitchell said. “The truth of the matter is, the citizens are going to look at us and have a conversation saying, ‘Why did you approve that line? Why didn’t you look at other options?’ and I’d be the first one to say I didn’t know about the other options.”
Muth said the plan was presented to MTC. However, Mitchell said he thinks the transportation committee could have weighed out the options and presented a recommendation to staff.
Mayor Vi Lyles said it is important to have a conversation with the board, transportation staff and planning staff, along with representatives from Matthews, Indian Trail, Stallings and other towns that will be affected by the development of the Silver Line.
Lyles also reminded the council that they approved the CATS budget earlier this year and will have to decide whether there will be a Silver Line.
Councilman Larken Egleston said if the city claims to commit to having a robust transit system, it needs to understand that risks will need to be taken.
Planning staff will present the plan to city council again on Oct. 28.