Cover Story: New Life for Red Line

HUNTERSVILLE, NC (WBTV) - It's the traffic headache many sit in every morning and afternoon, Interstate 77 between Mooresville and Charlotte.

Now, new developments on a plan to help ease the bumper to bumper backup - breathing new life into having trains run to north Mecklenburg and southern Iredell county.

The proposed Red Line service would stretch for 25 miles from Center City to Mooresville, passing through Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson along the way.

Supporters of the new Red Line say it would take thousands of cars off of Interstate 77 during the busy morning and afternoon commute.

But the project's gotten even bigger than that.

There's been a significant shift in strategy for the Red Line, expanding the project putting more than just people on trains.  Putting passengers and freight on the tracks as a way to get the project paid for.

On the line that runs along Old Statesville Road in North Mecklenburg county trains already use the tracks.

This is a plan to bring trains bigger, faster and more of them.

"Americans will ride trains.."

At a meeting at CPCC's North Campus Thursday morning area leaders got their first look at the plans for the new Red Line.

Four years ago after the launch of the LYNX Blue Line - Light Rail down South Boulevard, next up was to build a rail line from Charlotte to north Mecklenburg and Mooresville.

But the recession derailed that.

Passenger trains wouldn't run - construction wouldn't start until 2025.

Now enter a plan to get trains sooner and without any risk to you.

"This is beginning to feel like Christmas and I might be getting my Christmas wishes.. they're coming true," says Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain.  She adds, "I'm not going to exhale quite yet."

The Red Line Task Force, which is made up of mayors of the north Mecklenburg towns and others, is working with a consultant on a plan to create a special assessment district whose job it is to lure economic development to the rail corridor.  That would be accomplished by putting passenger and freight trains on the tracks.

Tax dollars from the new added development would be used to pay back the money borrowed to upgrade and run the new and expanded train line.

"The beauty of it is the community never has to ask for a tax increase. Only the future growth pays its way," says consultant Paul Morris now the deputy secretary of transit for North Carolina Department of Transportation.

He says "value capture funding" as its called has worked in a number of rail and transit corridors around the country.

This project set at $452 million would only happen if financing can be lined up.

But Cornelius Commissioner Jim Bensman is a skeptic.

"This is a very complex issue. It's based on the premise that if we build it they will come. For them to say that there is no risk to the taxpayer is really hard to believe," says Bensman.

As the region grow and traffic gets worse traffic backups are a nightmare for companies who haul freight.

Morris says in the future more companies will haul goods by rail.

"They're looking and saying every minute counts and if I can move goods across the globe get them into the U.S. and ultimately into the inland empire of the country efficiently that's the path I want to use," he said.

This is by far from a done deal.  It's complicated.  There are nine different agencies involved and everyone has to buy in.

But for supporters it's starting to look very promising.

If financing is lined up construction could start in three years.  Trains could be running by 2016.

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