The Tampa Tribune on Charlotte LRT and development.

A proposed penny sales tax increase on November’s ballot in Hillsborough County, Florida has put light rail in the spotlight — and the crosshairs — for Tampa this election season. The debate, predictably, has cut across the usual fault lines in 2010 America.

An urban mayor, together with federal officials and civic boosters are backing the plan, arguing that transit projects aided by the tax are essential to smart regional growth and competing with other metro areas. Meanwhile, critics fear the impact of yet another tax increase on overburdened ratepayers, questioning the return on investment for those who will be footing the bill but not necessarily riding the train.  

A LYNX Blue Line LRV is seen at East/West Boulevard station in Charlotte's South End, Jan. 10, 2008. Photo by Flickr user Doug Letterman, via Creative Commons license. Click image for photostream.

As part of its reporting, the Tampa Tribune has looked at the impact of in other sunbelt communities, including this Sept. 19 report on the Phoenix light rail system and yesterday’s story examining the the impact of light rail on development in Charlotte, both by Tampa Tribune reporter Ted Jackovics.

The crux of his report on the 9.6-mile LYNX system is this: “Since light rail opened in Charlotte in late 2007, $288.2 million in development near light rail stations has been completed,” Jackovics writes, “and $522 million is under construction, despite a veritable halt in growth since the 2008 recession.”

Further, he points out, “The Charlotte Area Transit System projects private investment development [near?] stations will reach $1.45 billion by 2013, depending on the economic recovery.”

These numbers are impressive if true — and while I’m not doubting their veracity, it would be interesting to have heard from some of those developers regarding the role light rail played in their decisions to build where, when and how they did.

The closest he gets is this quote from Charlotte Chamber president Bob Morgan: “Very few companies put their offices on light rail, but they like being a part of a city that is making that kind of investment,” Morgan said. “We have to show people that when they live here they have options – a house in the suburbs, a condo along the transit corridor.”

Given such a statement, critics might well ask whether vast public investment is indeed justified in terms of reciprocal business growth. I’m not for a second suggesting it is the reporter’s job to make a case for light rail, simply that he offers no evidence the to tie all that development to LRT.

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