Transit service in the Lake Norman region, at least in the foreseeable future, will continue to roll on rubber tires instead of steel rails.

During a Jan. 23 presentation to the Metropolitan Transit Commissioner (MTC), representatives of the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) delivered an updated list of short- and long-term recommendations for transit system development based on findings from an 18-month multi-corridor review of options.

For the north Mecklenburg and southern Iredell areas, conclusions are the existing Norfolk Southern rail line through Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville is the only suitable route for commuter rail service. And given the railroad company’s current policy favoring freight use and prohibiting passenger service, buses are viewed as the only feasible means of mass mobility for years to come.

“It is in stasis,” CATS Planner Jason Lawrence said when asked if “stagnation” or “hibernation” would be appropriate terms to describe the status of the Red Line, the moniker for rail service in the corridor north of Charlotte. “The situation will not change until there is a change in policy with Norfolk Southern. We are unable to advance the project, realistically any phase of the project, as long as the current Norfolk Southern policy is in place.”

As a result, Lawrence said CATS – while keeping the Red Line as the ultimate objective – recommends implementation of an enhanced Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network between Charlotte and the north Mecklenburg that can be put into place quickly and use the I-77 Express Lanes scheduled to open in segments later this year.

“The great thing about the plan is we don’t have to wait to implement the BRT,” Lawrence said, adding he expects the express bus service would be adopted in two phases.

He said – if the recommendations are endorsed at the MTC’s Feb. 27 meeting – CATS could begin working “immediately” on plans to use the new lanes to offer enhanced service to Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson. And with town support and a financing arrangement, CATS could also establish a BRT stop and express route serving Mooresville.

Lawrence added CATS staff would also look at developing more park and ride locations in north Mecklenburg and, perhaps, additional I-77 ramps providing direct connections to the express lanes.

Results not surprising

Lawrence said the comprehensive study was needed to verify the exact transit options available in the region, but Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla, an opponent of the study from the outset, said he still considers the effort a waste of money.

“I’m disappointed they went with the study and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out what we already knew,” Aneralla said about the current rail line being the only  option for commuter service.

Aneralla said the money spent on the study could have been used to implement many of the services and facility enhancements CATS now recommends.

And in terms of improved regional mobility, Aneralla said he has asked CATS staff to provide information about available right-of-ways as part of an effort he and other mayors have begun to investigate ways to improve pedestrian, bicycle and greenway connections between the towns.

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