Lake Norman train faces critical vote on Wednesday. Will all work stop on project?

Lake Norman train faces critical vote on Wednesday. Will all work stop on project?

CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - A proposed rail line from uptown to Lake Norman faces a critical vote Wednesday, when the Metropolitan Transit Commission considers whether to terminate further work on the project.

Huntersville Mayor John Anarella said he supports the Red Line as originally envisioned — as a commuter rail line using the Norfolk-Southern freight tracks.

But since Norfolk Southern has refused to lease the tracks, the Charlotte Area Transit System is looking for a new place to build the line. Norfolk Southern has said that it's not feasible for freight trains and commuter trains to share the same tracks.

Anarella said it's a mistake for CATS to consider new locations for the train — and he wants the transit system to stop spending time and money on a new location. Anarella said he believes he has enough votes on the MTC to stop further work on the Red Line, a move that could cripple the project.

"Putting a new line on the map creates a lot of uncertainty — we know that with road projects," he said. "The frustrating thing is the northern towns don't want (a new route for the Red Line). CATS insisted on coming up with an alternative."

The MTC is comprised of nine voting members from Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, the N.C. Department of Transportation and the other six towns in the county. The MTC approves major policy decisions for CATS, such as fare increases and where new transit should be built.

Charlotte will likely vote to keep working on the study. Mecklenburg Manager Dena Diorio said the county has not made a decision.

Last year, CATS hired the transit consultant WSP to study the Red Line, along with a proposed rail line from the airport to uptown. WSP is studying other locations for the Red Line, such as alongside Interstate 77.

Anarella said he doesn't think the train would ever be built, except in the original location on the Norfolk Southern tracks. He said CATS should instead focus on improving express bus service on I-77.

The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to open new express toll lanes on I-77 at the end of this year. Buses can use the lanes for free and have a guaranteed travel time of at least 45 mph.

For people riding the bus, that should decrease travel times between Lake Norman and uptown. CATS chief executive John Lewis said last week that he hopes the MTC doesn't kill the Red Line study.

"We don't want anyone to be left out," he said.

Lewis also said more express bus service on I-77 is already being planned.

Former Davidson Mayor John Woods is a staunch supporter of bringing rail transit to Lake Norman. He said the proposal to focus on bus service is a "ruse" and that Anarella is focused on killing the train.

"The general public in North Mecklenburg — the great majority of whom support development of the Red Line — know nothing about this effort to stall rail in their community," Woods said.

He said "all hell with break loose" if the MTC votes to stop work on the Red Line study.

WSP, the consultant, is studying where a new Red Line could be built and how much it might cost. If the commuter line could share the Norfolk Southern tracks, the line might cost $500 million. If CATS has to build in a new location, the cost would likely double.