Consultant urges quick Red Line completion

by Courtney Price

The future of the Red and Blue lines is full of uncertainty.

But the Metropolitan Transit Commission was certain last Wednesday, Nov. 17, that the best course is to pursue federal funding for the northeast Blue Line Extension project, and to seek pubic-private partnerships for the Red Line, a commuter train that will extend north to Mooresville.

The meeting followed a discussion with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte said urged the commission to cooperate on the two lines.

“With the state funds and private partnerships,” Tarte said, “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).”

But cooperating will cost the system.

“We do not have sufficient funding to pay for the 2030 plan,” Charlotte Area Transit System CEO Carolyn Flowers told the commission.

Following one presentation from Flowers and another by financial consultant Jeffrey Parker, the commission directed the transit system to pursue both lines, but to reduce the capital costs of the Blue Line Extension by 20 percent – the so-called “affordable alternative” plan for the line.

If the commission adopted the affordable plan, Parker said, “It would require significant sacrifice.”

Flowers said capital costs could be cut by reducing the total distance of the Blue Line Extension, the number of stations, the streetscapes or the amenities. She also reported that the dates for the Red and Blue lines would be pushed back to 2016 and 2018, respectively.

The original 2030 transportation system plan, drafted in 2006, estimated the capital cost of the Blue Line Extension at $702 million in 2010 dollars. But Parker reported that the current estimation for the Blue Line is $983 million – a 40 percent increase.

The Red Line project was estimated in the original plan to cost $338 million in 2010 dollars, but the expected cost has increased by 9.5 percent to $371 million.

Parker urged the commission and the transit system to complete the Red Line as soon as possible, especially considering LaHood’s cooperative message.

“There is an incentive to move quickly with the Red Line,” Parker said. “The Red Line enhances the ability to construct the Blue Line.”