Red Line survives effort to stop study. What's next for Lake Norman train?

Red Line survives effort to stop study. What's next for Lake Norman train?
A CATS transit bus and LYNX light-rail train travel along South Boulevard in Charlotte. (Credit: Observer file photo)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - The Metropolitan Transit Commission voted Wednesday to continue studying new ways to build the Red Line train to Lake Norman, despite Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla's efforts to kill the study.

Aneralla said he wants the Red Line train to be built on a freight line currently leased by Norfolk Southern, which has so far refused to share the tracks with a passenger train. He said it's a waste of time and resources to look for an alternative route for the Red Line and that a new proposed route for the train would cause too much uncertainty for property owners.

"I would like to stop the study because I don't think it's warranted," he said. "We should negotiate better with Norfolk Southern."

He added: "I'm not here just because John Aneralla thinks it's a bad idea. It's my board, it's Cornelius and the county that thinks it's a bad idea."

But when it came time to vote, eight of the nine voting members of the MTC voted to continue the study. Aneralla was the only member to vote against further work.

Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox said the freight tracks were the only alignment that made sense for his town. But he said he thinks the Charlotte Area Transit System should finish the study..

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"We don't have an alternative in Davidson," Knox said. "That's the defined rail corridor. But I think we are too far along in the study not to finish it."

Cornelius Mayor Woody Washam also reluctantly agreed to continue the study. But he said he didn't want his vote to be mistaken for him supporting whatever alternative is proposed.

CATS has hired a consultant, WSP, to study the best way to build rail transit to the airport and an alternative route for a Lake Norman train. CATS said WSP is about one-third of the way through its study, which should be finished at the end of 2018.

It's possible WSP could recommend building the Lake Norman rail line along Interstate 77 or along U.S. 21.

Even after the study is finished, CATS can't afford to build a Lake Norman train or a train to the airport without more money, most likely from a tax increase.

CATS chief executive John Lewis hasn't yet said how he plans to finance his transit expansion, which could cost as much as $7 billion. Building the Red Line in an entirely new corridor would likely cost $1 billion..

Aneralla wanted to shift the money from the study to improve express bus service for north Mecklenburg. He said CATS could have bought land for park-and-ride lots, among other improvements.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, an MTC member, said the region must work together to solve congestion problems. She voted in favor of continuing the WSP study.

Lewis said WSP would not be making a recommendation about where the Red Line should go, and that the MTC would still decide whether the train is built at all.