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Red Line Moves Forward

About 150 elected officials and public employees from Charlotte to Mooresville and every town in between got a look Tuesday at a new plan to build a commuter rail, despite a lack of federal funds. It's called the "Red Line" and the current scheme to pay for it would be a first in North Carolina. Half of the $452 million price tag for the Red Line Regional Rail will be split between the state and the Charlotte Area Transit System. The plan for the other half is basically "if we build it they will come." Just think of all the new homes, offices and strip malls developers will clamor to build along a 25-mile commuter line between Charlotte and Mooresville, supporters say. "It's the catalyst for activity that would likely otherwise not happen here," says North Carolina deputy transit secretary Paul Morris. Morris adds NCDOT is really excited about the Red Line plan because, if it works, it's a whole new way for the state to get rail projects built. The idea is that all the property taxes paid by those new developments along the rail line will go into a special fund to cover the construction loans. A task force of mayors from those towns has spent the last year hatching this plan and they're convinced there will be more than enough growth along the Red Line to cover construction. But there is a catch. "If one jurisdiction opts out of this program, it will not work. Period," says Davidson Mayor John Woods. Mayor Woods chairs the Red Line Task Force and is, by default, the funding plan's chief salesman. Over the next six months he'll pitch the idea to elected leaders and public citizens in every community along the 25-mile commuter rail route. Iredell County has proven particularly skeptical, since the proposed route only reaches Mooresville on the county's southern edge. Former Mooresville Mayor Bill Thunberg says the biggest barrier, "is being sure that the average taxpayer doesn't see any tax increase or have any financial repercussions from whatever the financing and funding plan is." And suppose the new development along the rail line isn't enough to pay the construction loans? The plan calls for the state to fill the gap - not the towns and their taxpayers. The Red Line Task Force hopes to get unanimous support from the towns and counties by June of next year. That would get commuters shuttling along Norfolk Southern's existing rails by 2017.