Commission still supports commuter train to Mooresville
CHARLOTTE – The Metropolitan Transit Commission decided Wednesday, Nov. 17, to put the Blue Line Light Rail Extension project as its priority on the federal level.
But the resounding message at the commission’s five-hour workshop was not to abandon plans for the Red Line, a commuter train that will work its way north to Mooresville.
“The northeast line (Blue Line) has to be the top priority for securing federal funds, or we loose our place in line,” Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte said at the workshop.
Following a chat with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, the commissioners said they were committed to broadening their focus to encompass the region.
“One takeaway was the message from Secretary LaHood,” Tarte said, “have a common set of priorities, or we’re going to take your money and we’re going to give it to somebody else.”
The commission adopted a legislative agenda, which will guide lobbyists. In addition to pushing for a revision of the way federal funds are distributed to rail projects, the commission asked the lobbyists, Dana Fenton and Jeff Boothe, of Holland and Knight, to pursue funding for and measures that favor the Blue Line.
“The northeast line (Blue Line) will become the single top priority transit line, predicated on going after federal funding,” Tarte said. “Concurrently, though, we’ll be pursuing state funding to fund the north line (Red Line).”
The Red Line is not eligible for federal funding, financial consultant Jeffrey Parker said, which is why it was not included on the federal legislative agenda.
Tarte said it looks like the rules for federal funding of light rail might be changing, but in the meantime, the commission and Charlotte Area Transit System will be searching for other means of funding the Red Line.
“There is no possible way North Carolina and Mecklenburg County can pay for the northeast line (Blue Line) without federal money,” Tarte said. “With the state funds and private partnerships, there’s a potential that we can get the federal funds and keep the northeast line (Blue Line) on track, and actually still do the north line (Red Line) and have it operational before the northeast line (Blue Line).”
The commission instructed Charlotte Area Transit System to move forward with plans for the two rail lines, which assumes that $228 million will be found to fill in the unfunded portion of the Red Line.