Recent discussion on the Red Line Regional Rail Project has been intense – and so has the dissemination of misinformation about the project.  This discussion is the result of the Red Line Task Force’s referral of a draft business and finance plan for review by the communities along the line.

Public discussion of the project has included a considerable amount of very thoughtful input and intense questioning, as was intended.  Unfortunately, this regional conversation has been seen by those opposed to transit and the transit tax as a surrogate target for the failed effort to repeal the transit tax.   Transit is a part of the transportation plan for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region, and rail is a part of the transit and transportation systems designed to serve this region.

The Lake Norman Transportation Commission (LNTC) is helping to facilitate the discussion about the Red Line Regional Rail Project’s draft business and finance plan.  It is providing information, setting up local and regional meetings, providing updated information to the community, working with developers and property owners, researching and estimating secondary impacts in the proposed station areas, etc.  The LNTC has not taken a position on the draft business and finance plan.  Instead, the LNTC has encouraged the partners in the review process to complete a thorough review of the rather unique (for North Carolina) finance plan designed to advance the construction of the line while not increasing property taxes or risks for the average taxpayer.  To meet these criteria, the finance plan utilizes a combination of Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) and Special Assessment Districts (SADs), along with the use of a regional Joint Powers Authority to implement the project.

As intended, the focus of the discussion has been on the costs of the project and the potential benefits.  We should also consider the cost of not building the line now.  One way to put that into perspective is to visualize what Charlotte would look like without I-85 or the airport - what happens to the system without one or more of its components?  How attractive would it then be to business?  How well would it serve citizens?

If you think the comparison is a little over the top, picture the consequences of eliminating a single interchange – perhaps the interchange at I-85 and Harris Boulevard.  What are the impacts to the entire regional system?

The crux of the matter is that the Red Line Regional Rail project is part of a much larger network – a transportation system.  It has a role to play in relation to the other components of the system.  Will the system collapse if the project isn’t constructed? No.  However, there are impacts – some of which could be severe.  Just as we are now dealing with the consequences of actions taken or not taken years ago (e.g., I- 485) so will the generations that follow us.

When will the Red Line be built?  When the money is available.  When will the money be available?  When there is an acceptable finance plan.  That’s the discussion going on now.

– Bill Thunberg

Executive Director, Lake Norman Transportation Commission