March 24. Should the Charlotte Area Transportation System spend $2.3 million to study a new commuter rail line between Charlotte and Lake Norman?
No way, says Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla. He, along with his town board, have come out solidly against the notion of yet another new rail line, possibly well east of the Hwy. 115 corridor. Studying rail, a centuries-old technology with hyper-specific start-, end- and mid-points, isn’t necessarily the right way to spend dollars generated by sales taxes either, some town officials say
At issue is how sales tax monies earmarked for transit are spent. North Meck residents have seen little benefit from the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve generated in sales tax support for transit over the past two decades, Aneralla says.
And it looks like Cornelius officials are also opposed to the CATS study.
Cornelius Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam said he is also opposed to moving the line away from the town centers, which adjoin existing development along Hwy. 115. “We want to use the money to apply to enhanced bus service to North Meck sooner than later,” Washam says, explaining that he’s not opposed to the Red Line that was originally proposed along the existing Norfolk Southern freight line. “However, I would support a resolution to ask we do not use this money for this expensive study but apply it to our actual transit needs.”
North Mecklenburg political leaders are coalescing around moving $1.5 million in study money this year, as well as $780,000 in next year’s CATS budget, to the North Mecklenburg towns for bus shelters and other amenities to enhance bus service right now. The vote on the actual budget will be at the April meeting.
Transit, of course, is a big business issue in a corridor choked with north-south traffic. The Lake Norman Chamber has officially condemned the current toll plan on I-77 because it will not reduce congestion. Buses operated by CATS, however, will be able to use the toll lanes.
”To be able to use the $2.3 million for bus shelters and other amenities to promote an enhanced and more efficient bus service to North Mecklenburg makes complete sense as it would more quickly benefit our citizens, increase bus ridership and continue to promote economic development along the original red line,” Washam says.
The Huntersville Town Board adopted a formal resolution opposing the study at their March 20 town board meeting. It was at the Metropolitan Transit Commission meeting today in Charlotte. The MTC is the policy board for CATS and has responsibility for reviewing and recommending all long-range public transportation plans.
CATS spokeswoman Krystel Green said that the agency is already studying bus options in a special project entitled ”Envision My Ride.” “Through this initiative, we will study where and how bus routes in the north corridor—along with the rest of our bus routes—will operate with regards to improved travel times and frequency.”
The CATS bus study was conducted online during December and January, and the survey results are currently being tabulated. Green said once the study is complete CATS will then coordinate the results with their West/North/System Integration Study.
Several major developments, including Antiquity, were specifically built to be near the original Red Line route within the Norfolk Southern right-of-way, so a route further east would run contrary to those long promised development plans.
CATS has long wanted to build a light rail corridor north out of Charlotte along the Norfolk Southern line, but the railroad has so far refused to entertain the idea. A new corridor apart from the Norfolk Southern tracks would add hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Line’s $500 million estimated cost.
That would likely mean a larger transit sales tax—a tough sell in an area that already feels its been cheated out of what has already been raised by the sales tax.
In addition, many political observers believe the opposition to the I-77 toll lane contract displayed by the usually rock-solid GOP strongholds such as Cornelius and Huntersville cost Gov. Pat McCrory his re-election…and that opposition to a new rail line study would be another chance for the Northern suburbs to display their strength.