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Board Votes To Continue Study Of North Commuter Line Routes

Mayor John Aneralla of Huntersville
David Boraks
Mayor John Aneralla of Huntersville argues for canceling the Red Line study at Wednesday's MTC meeting.

A study of commuter rail routes to the Lake Norman area will continue as planned. Charlotte Area Transit System's board voted against one member's call to end the study midstream and to divert the savings to buses. 

The Metropolitan Transit Commission voted 7-1 to continue the study of alternate routes for the Red Line rail project from Charlotte to Mooresville.  

The study, now about one-third complete, began after CATS was unable to negotiate a deal for its long-preferred route - using existing tracks controlled by Norfolk Southern. The freight line announced a policy change in 2011 that it wouldn't allow passenger trains on its tracks. That brought planning for the Red Line to a halt.

Commission member and Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla proposed canceling the study, arguing it was a waste of money.  

"I would like to stop the study because we don't think it's warranted. We think the line where it is today is where it should be, and we should just negotiate better with Norfolk Southern,” Aneralla said.

He proposed spending any savings from the cancellation on improved bus service, commuter parking and bus shelters.

Mayor Rusty Knox of Davidson disagreed.

“I think we're too far along in the study right now to not finish it,” he said.

Knox then asked CATS CEO John Lewis him to make sure the north Mecklenburg towns get the services they deserve - whether that's rail or buses.

Lewis tried to reassure Aneralla that the study would not dictate a shift away from using the existing tracks, known as the "O line."

"You will not receive a recommendation from staff on a new alignment,” Lewis said. “We're very clear that it is the preferred decision of this board to move forward with the O line. What this study will give us is an alternative, if we are not successful in that."

Afterward, Aneralla was disappointed and said he thought he would have more votes.

“It’s just mind-boggling to me that we would waste money on something that they had promised was not going to happen, and the money was going to be used for bus services that we haven’t received,” he said.

Meanwhile, bus improvements are in the works for north Mecklenburg. In a presentation before the vote, Jason Lawrence of CATS outlined several initiatives, including a new connector bus from Huntersville to the Blue Line light rail in northeast Charlotte, and bus and park-and-ride services tied to the opening of the I-77 toll lanes later this year.

The $3.2 million study by WSP consultants also looks at transit options for the Lynx Gold Line west to the airport, and the Silver Line southeast to Matthews. It’s expected to be completed in December.

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.