After $38 million, Charlotte says promised Cross Charlotte Trail isn’t possible

After $38 million, Charlotte says promised Cross Charlotte Trail isn’t possible
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For half a decade, Charlotte leaders have promised us a massive urban greenway.

The Cross Charlotte Trail, as it’s called, would snake through the heart of the city and connect Pineville all the way to Cabarrus County. As planning and construction have continued, it’s been described as a crowning achievement and regional draw — so long that you could run a marathon on it, one way.

But the fate of the Cross Charlotte Trail took an abrupt turn this week when city staff told the City Council that the plan simply wasn’t feasible with its current budget.

The news left even the council baffled. What happened? What went wrong?

“I kind of feel like I’m a party to a misrepresentation to the taxpayers,” Councilman Ed Driggs said.

Here’s what we know.

What is the Cross Charlotte Trail?

The idea for the Cross Charlotte Trail was born in 2012, when city and Mecklenburg County leaders pitched the idea of an urban greenway that would let people bike and walk from Ballantyne all the way through University City and into Cabarrus County.

The trail would patch gaps between Charlotte’s existing greenways and pass within a half-mile of 140,000 people. And it would vault Charlotte from near the bottom of major cities into the top echelon.

How have we paid for it?

That vision has helped inspire voters to approve three rounds of bonds since 2014 totaling $38 million. The trail got $5 million in 2014, $28 million in 2016, and another $5 million in 2018.

Until this week, the City Council’s expectation has been that this would be enough to complete it.

So you’re saying it won’t get finished?

Not as originally planned.

At a strategy session this week, city staff broke the news to City Council that there wasn’t enough money to complete the trail as originally envisioned. It’s now up to the council to figure out what to do.

What options does Charlotte have?

There are three main options on the table.

The first is a solution floated by city staff. This would move forward on completing the 18 miles that are in the pipeline, and just mark street connections for another 8 miles — mostly north of NoDa. These “street connections” would basically just mean there would be a sign saying the road is a part of the Cross Charlotte Trail — and there may or may not be sidewalks. It’s a far cry from the urban greenway that was planned. But the city would try to get private developers to work on the trail as they build in the area where it’s planned.

The area in blue is what there’s no money for

The second option is to come up with the money to fully fund the rest of the Cross Charlotte Trail. The price tag is estimated at an additional $77 million.

The final option is to just cut bait and enjoy what’s been built since 2012.

Would you vote in favor of a bond asking for another $77 million to complete the Cross Crountry Trail?

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Whose fault is all this?

It’s hard to say. The Cross Charlotte Trail was conceived under City Manager Curt Walton, fleshed out under Ron Carlee, and is now shepherded by Marcus Jones. City staff said that it became clear early on in the planning process that $38 million wouldn’t cut it — but I guess nobody said anything.

City Manager Marcus Jones

When will Charlotte make a decision?

Mayor Vi Lyes said that the City Council would revisit the issue later in January.

What happens in the meantime?

There are actually three pieces of the Cross Charlotte Trail actively in the works that will need City Council approval over the next year.

The first, scheduled for a vote January 14, is called the South Charlotte Connector and would run behind Carolina Place Mall.

The second is a $17 million connector between Tyvola Road and Brandywine Road near the Park Road Shopping Center area. This would connect the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and the Cross Charlotte Trail to the south.

The final one would connect 7th Street and 10th Street.

These three are funded with currently available funds. After that — there’s no money.

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