Feb 25, 2021 - News

Charlotte’s big transit plans could be a tough sell for north Meck

Blue Line light rail stop North End

Axios archives

Regardless whether it winds up on a ballot this year, Charlotte’s big transit proposal will face heavy opposition in north Mecklenburg towns — especially without a guaranteed train to Lake Norman.

Why it matters: Charlotte officials are pushing to get a 1-cent sales tax increase on the ballot to help pay for a “transformational mobility network.” The network could cost up to $12 billion and would pay for everything from light rail to greenways to bike lanes. [Go deeper]

  • But north Mecklenburg town leaders aren’t enthusiastic about the plan. Without their support, it may be difficult to pass the referendum.

Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla, for instance, is against raising taxes right now for several reasons. For one, the current economy: “The timing of a 1% sales tax coming out of pandemic and recession could not be worse,” Aneralla tells Axios Charlotte.

He also describes North Mecklenburg as the “stepchild to the rest of Mecklenburg County.”

That’s a reference to the fact that North Mecklenburg residents are still playing for the half-cent 1998 transportation bond. It helped pay for the Blue Line, which ends at UNC Charlotte.

Cornelius Mayor Woody Washam opposes the new transit proposal because of that decades-old tax. Cornelius residents have not gotten a good return on it, Washam says.

  • “We’re not ready to go into another sales tax without some conversation and guarantees,” Washam told Axios Charlotte.

The one guarantee that would change everything would be a Red Line commuter train from Charlotte to Davidson, which Charlotte leaders have wanted for years.

  • As a cost-saving measure, CATS has proposed sharing Norfolk Southern’s tracks that run parallel to Interstate 77 for the Red Line.
  • Norfolk Southern has long been opposed to that idea. But Charlotte planning director Taiwo Jaiyeoba recently told city council that “the needle has moved in a positive direction” regarding discussions with the rail operator.

Yes, but: Norfolk Southern was quick to shoot down the notion of Red Line talks advancing with the city of Charlotte.

  • “We have not reconsidered our stance on this proposal,” spokesperson Jeff DeGraff said.

Norfolk Southern uses the tracks from Charlotte to Lake Norman to ship anything from industrial equipment to Amazon orders. The railroad’s business is 24/7, DeGraff said, and it needs to maintain flexibility with how it operates.

  • Sharing rail with a passenger train can impede that flexibility, he added.
  • “Our policy has always been that we avoid co-mingling passenger and freight,” DeGraff said.

Despite some reports to the contrary, there has not been a change in leadership that would change Norfolk Southern’s position, he added.

What’s new: Because of delays in census data, Charlotte likely will have to postpone this year’s elections. That means the transit referendum might not even make it to a discussion about even going on the ballot.

  • Some say the delay could help advance discussions with northern towns who oppose the measure. The economy might be better next year, too.

But others say the timing may not sway their opinion on the matter. If the city of Charlotte wants to tax its citizens, it should do that, Hunterville’s mayor said.

“Regardless of when it’s put on the ballot it should be the beneficiary — Charlotte — putting that tax on their citizens instead of (towns like) Mint Hill and Cornelius having to pay into that,” Aneralla said.


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