Huntersville has pushed back against a planned $2.3 million study of alternatives to light rail in northern Mecklenburg County, digging in against a project that has failed to gain traction for nearly two decades.
Town commissioners Monday night approved a resolution urging the Metropolitan Transit Commission to reject a Charlotte Area Transit System budget for fiscal years 2018 and fiscal year 2019 that included $2.3 million to study alternative light rail lines.
“We basically last night urged the MTC to reallocate those funds to the many uses that would enhance bus service,” such as sideways to bus stops, shelters and connecting greenways to park-and-ride lots, said Mayor John John Aneralla.
North Mecklenburg residents have seen little return for the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve helped pay for mass transit since 1998, the Observer has reported.
Their frustration could hurt efforts to extend rail to other parts of the county, including Matthews and Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
A $6 billion plan by CATS includes a new light rail corridor through northern towns and abandon a long-planned “Red Line” commuter rail along existing freight tracks. Norfolk Southern, which owns the tracks, has refused to share them.
CATS chief executive John Lewis said last month he’s now considering finding a new corridor apart from the Norfolk Southern tracks. That would likely add hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Line’s $500 million estimated cost.
The plan could require an expanded transit sales tax that would need voter approval – a hard sell in North Mecklenburg, critics say.
A white paper three years ago offered two alternative light rail lines through North Mecklenburg, east and west of the Norfolk Southern line. Huntersville commissioners felt either alternative would be too disruptive of its downtown, Aneralla said.
Last year, he said, Lewis and the MTC agreed to focus instead on improved bus service between North Mecklenburg and Charlotte.
“That’s what were holding them to with this resolution,” he said.
Cornelius commissioners also discussed the alternative lines study Monday night but did not vote. Mayor Chuck Travis said that, like Huntersville, he supports better bus service but doesn’t want to see the original Red Line corridor abandoned.
“This is not a vote against the Red Line, to be constructed as planned so it would come through the heart of all our towns,” Travis said. “It would be great if we can make the Red Line work.”
Davidson’s town board is aware of the corridor study proposed by the MTC and may discuss it at a March 28 meeting, public information officer Cristina Shaul said.
A CATS spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.