At last night’s business meeting, Charlotte City Council deferred their vote to a later date on the appropriation of $4.3 million toward the design of phase 3 of the CityLYNX Gold streetcar line.
The funds will go toward a contract with AECOM Technical Services of North Carolina to plan and design a phase 3 “refresh” of the Gold Line. Phase 3 would expand the Gold Line East and West toward the Eastland Mall area and down Beatties Ford Road.
John Lewis, Jr. of CATS presented to the council, saying the “refresh” and planning process will give CATS an opportunity to “improve travel time” and “assess lessons learned from previous phases.”
Council members were vocal about issues with previous phases of the Gold Line, like “construction headaches,” per Council member Larkin Egleston.
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Council member-at-large Dimple Ajmera voiced “concerns around reliability.”
“I’ve taken the streetcar sometimes and seen extensive delays,” she said, at times saying it was faster to walk or ride a bicycle than to take the streetcar. Ajmera attributed these issues to “labor shortages” and vehicles parked in the right-of-way.
“We need this study,” he said. “And we’ll take the opportunity to look at using dedicated lanes, queue jumpers, and signal prioritization.”
Council member-at-large Greg Phipps and Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt asked whether there’s a dedicated right-of-way for the track, information that Lewis did not know at the time.
“I’m kind of taken aback thinking moving ahead,” Eiselt said. “What are the lessons learned?”
Lewis said that a reconfiguration of the previous two phases could also be a potential outcome of the performance study included in the contract whilst acknowledging past issues.
“Phase 2 had a lot of unique challenges; there are a whole host of issues that we’re still working out,” he said.
Council member Edmund H. Driggs also took issue with the contract, calling himself a “Gold Line skeptic.”
“Vehicles and buses could create a greater network of connectivity and better reliability,” said Driggs, adding that he would vote no against the contract. “We’re still moving forward with an assumption that we’ll have a tax or something to pay for this.”
Council member Tariq Bokhari raised similar concerns to that of his colleague, stating that he would not be voting to move the contract forward.
“We have foundational issues that we need to address at the CATS level first,” Bokhari said, referencing a “damning audit” that included issues of accountability, driver safety and “ghost buses.”
Council member Malcolm Graham offered the perspective of community members on the West and East sides of Charlotte.
“I want to know the potential impact on small businesses along the Beatties Ford Road corridor and Central Avenue,” he said, expressing concern for the wellbeing of those businesses during construction. In addition, Graham mentioned that the Gold Line expansion was promised to the West End community members by a previous council.
“I think we have some tough decisions to make as a community,” he said. “There are many small, local businesses that will be closed permanently due to closures from the construction.”
Council member Matt Newton echoed Graham’s sentiment, stating that this issue is a “matter of trust with the West and East Charlotte communities.”
“Bear in mind, phase 3 serves a bigger purpose,” he said. “This is an economic catalyst and is a big job creator for those areas.”
There was some discussion that choosing not to vote or voting no on the contract would stop phase 3 of the Gold Line forever, to which Lewis responded that the cost proposed by AECOM was “toward the end of its life cycle.”
“It feels like we are pushing a solution and we don’t even know the answers to these questions,” Council member Eiselt said. “We don’t even know if we can get the right of way.”
Eiselt also asked whether the City could place boots or ticket vehicles parked in the right of way. Lewis responded that CATS does not have the authority to enforce that.
Council members also discussed the possibility of using that $4.3 million, which has already been set aside, toward more pressing matters rather than the AECOM contract.
Egleston moved to delay the vote until the next work session, leading to a unanimous vote to do so.