Silver Line to Matthews left out of Charlotte’s new light rail plan

MATTHEWS — A new sales tax plan to fund a light rail expansion in Mecklenburg County has its first casualty: the Silver Line extension to Matthews.

Matthews Mayor John Higdon told Channel 9′s Joe Bruno that the new sales tax plan no longer funds light rail to east Charlotte and Matthews.

Instead, the plans call for Bus Rapid Transit from Charlotte to Matthews.

Channel 9 first reported Wednesday when the city of Charlotte reached an agreement to build the Red Line commuter rail project north toward Iredell County. That plan hinges on a sales tax increase referendum, as long as it’s approved by the North Carolina General Assembly.

Higdon says he’s opposed to the change in the sales tax plan.

The Silver Line was announced nearly a decade ago, and an original plan would have it run along Independence Boulevard to Monroe Road, running through Matthews.

Jason Schneider with the city of Charlotte said that the Metropolitan Transit Commission’s plan for the southeast corridor back in 2002 was Bus Rapid Transit. He sent a statement to Channel 9′s Joe Bruno on Friday saying that the city is focused on giving people more transportation options, adding that BRT can achieve “many of the same benefits associated with light rail.”

“If we focus on why we need to build transit, we can figure out a what works best for all our residents and businesses,” the city’s statement said, in part. “In some cases, BRT may provide a better solution to transit in our respective communities by delivering high-capacity transit faster, at lower cost and with less disruption to the residents and businesses. Many of the same benefits associated with light rail are achievable with BRT and highly successful BRT systems have been built by our peers around the country and cities around the world. Additionally, there are national examples of BRT supporting transit-oriented development.”

Under the new plan, the Silver Line rail to Charlotte Douglas International Airport is still in place.

Changing routes

Mike Blackburn lives in east Charlotte, and he isn’t surprised the plans are changing.

“That’s government for you,” Blackburn told Channel 9′s Joe Bruno. “If they are going to raise taxes anyway, why not get the train?”

But while the tax increase might not go toward rail service to Matthews, local leaders say the substitution with BRT can work alongside the Red Line expansion to north Charlotte.

“It feels like we are making some traction in some ways that we have not in quite some time,” said Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Dante Anderson, who represents part of east Charlotte.

Anderson is thrilled with the new Red Line plan, and she says she’s satisfied with the plan for better bus service instead of a train to Matthews.

“I’ve lived in cities around the country and rapid bus transit is reliable, quick and safe,” Anderson told Bruno.

Despite the changes, neighbor Mitch Greenberg says the transit improvements for the region are still desperately needed.

“People need a way to get from A to B that is convenient and inexpensive. Go ahead and make the investment, it will pay off later,” Greenberg said.

Higdon says he’s not happy about the Silver Line plans changing. He told Bruno he will oppose a sales tax referendum if light rail for his town is not included in the package.

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