by Josh Lanier

HUNTERSVILLE – State officials laid out last week the first steps to its approach to getting the Red Line off the ground.

Paul Morris, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation, told a group of local leaders Oct. 27 that he envisions the 25-mile line as an economic engine that could pay for itself overtime with some initial investments from local and state governments.

Put short, the federal government isn’t likely to help out with cash on the project, so Morris and transportation officials are crafting a new approach to fund rail lines in the state, one that could become a prototype for future growth. However if the line is built, half the $450 million tab appears likely to fall on the towns of Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville – 12.5 percent each.

That full report will be made available in December.

But last week, local leaders got a chance to get the first peek at that new approach and ask questions about how to implement it.

The most pressing issue was how to best oversee the line – while equally sharing the cost.

Currently, there are nearly a dozen governmental agencies that have some jurisdiction over the line between the state, counties and governmental agencies created to oversee transportation. One solution to streamline all that government could be creating a Joint Powers Authority, an agreement between the state Department of Transportation, Charlotte Area Transportation System, Mecklenburg and Iredell Counties and Mooresville, Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville. This new body could, in theory, be created to oversee the build-up to and construction of the Red Line.

Local officials still haven’t settled on what, and how much, power the Joint Powers Authority would have.

Morris said he envisions a split to pay for the line, with the county and state each picking up 25 percent of the cost of construction and Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville picking up the other 50 percent.

The biggest question looming from the discussion is what will happen if the towns invest their cash but the return doesn’t come.

That’s not known just yet, said Lake Norman Transportation Commission Executive Director Carroll Gray.

“At this point, that question isn’t totally resolved, but should the state become the prime sponsor of the project, there may be a way for the state to provide assurance, or alternatively, tell any bond buyers that they are purchasing the construction bonds ‘as is’ with no recourse,” Gray said in an email.”

The mantra of the presentation at Central Piedmont Community College was getting local leaders to rethink their vision of the line that will stretch from downtown Charlotte to Mount Mourne.

Morris wants to focus on the billions of dollars that will be invested into the area through development around the line.

It’s a new approach to thinking when it comes to rail lines, Gray said, as state and local leaders hope to reap the rewards on the public and private investment into the line with induced growth that will pay for itself.

If it works, the Red Line could have implications on future rail lines across the state, essentially serving as a prototype for future projects, Gray said.