Liberals might be overly optimistic when it comes to high speed rail, but devotion to trains looks downright sensible relative to those who argue for the efficacy of streetcars. Voters despise streetcars; taxpayers have been opposed to them in almost every municipality where they’ve been installed. The streetcar in Charlotte, the pet project of Anthony Foxx, is such an example, and one reason why I’ve argued in the past that he would make a much weaker statewide candidate than many believe.

Due in no small part to Foxx’s position as Transportation Secretary, Obama’s new budget contains a $75 million grant which will advance the next phase of the streetcar project, a 2.5 mile extension to the 1.5 miles of track already laid down. It’s part of the Obama administration’s focus on revitalizing infrastructure in this country. Despite the fact that the city spent $12 million appealing to the federal government for a grant, even Democrat Mayor Pro Tem Barnes sounds very skeptical about the project, saying something to the effect that at some point the city might have to cut its losses. Supporters say the project will help the economy in high-poverty western Charlotte, as the streetcar is so slow and inefficient that people will be able to solicit businesses in the area, then hop back on without the car advancing more than several yards.

Needless to say, don’t expect Charlotte’s representatives in Congress to support any budget provision which will dole out more money to the streetcar project. The resistance of Reps. Pittenger and Hudson and Sens. Burr and Tillis will almost surely result in a red light, but it could become a political issue in the metro Charlotte area. The streetcar is supported mostly by the predominantly African American West Charlotte area and rejecting the federal grant could help mobilize voters in this area.

But don’t count on it. There’s only one guy excited about the project, and he’s now in charge of Transportation for the entire federal government. Opposition to the streetcar is a lot broader and a lot more intense. Candidates who try to make a wedge issue out of it are likely to face swift backlash from voters in the Charlotte suburbs. If Charlotte area Republicans stand in the way of the grant, they’ll in all likelihood receive kudos from voters who demand fiscal responsibility from their government.


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