While public Red Line discussions took a spring hiatus, the group continued to meet monthly, as representatives from the three north Mecklenburg towns and Mooresville shifted their attention from the Red Line to all the possibilities for widening I-77, and other surface transportation matters. Meanwhile, both the Red Line and I-77 proposals have moved forward without fanfare as the now three-year-old LNTC has continued doing what it has shown it does best — work to coalesce local elected officials to speak in a unified voice to state elected and transportation officials.
Although appearing dormant, the Red Line hasn't gone away. Executive Director Emeritus — not a real title but nonetheless a practical description — Carroll Gray has been working with the development community, which would pay much of the freight for what will eventually be a re-tooled and repackaged business and finance plan for that public-private partnership (P3). Meanwhile the group's new executive director, Bill Thunberg, has focused more on the burgeoning P3 project that will widen I-77, now perhaps as far north as Exit 33 or even Exit 36 in Mooresville. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is currently receiving bids from P3 groups for that project.
Gray agreed to extend his tenure for yet another three months beyond the agreed-upon, six-month part-time involvement in order to focus on would-be developers along the Red Line. His goal is to orchestrate a consensus on how their planned projects could help repay private investment in the proposed, 25-mile hybrid commuter/freight rail line between downtown Charlotte and southern Mooresville and, eventually, farther northward.
Thunberg, meanwhile, is participating in regional meetings regarding I-77, but also has a seat at the table for ongoing discussions between Norfolk-Southern Railroad and the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS).
That's the kind of teamwork incoming LNTC Chairman and Cornelius Commissioner Chuck Travis says has characterized the group since it was formed in 2009. Travis will take over for Davidson Commissioner Brian Jenest, who has chaired the LNTC since its inception, at the group's next meeting in Huntersville on Wednesday, Aug. 8.
"Brian and Carroll were able to provide consistent, effective leadership to get things off the ground," says Travis. "Now that Bill Thunberg has stepped in, it seems like a natural time to make changes, and Brian has served his time."
Travis was selected to take over as chairman because, other than Jenest, he is the longest-tenured member of the LNTC. The body consists of one elected official and one staff member from Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville, along with representatives of the Lake Norman and Mooresville-South Iredell chambers of commerce, and an elected official from Charlotte. Mooresville and Huntersville have placed new elected members on the panel.
Over the first two years of the LNTC's existence, its primary task was to increase awareness of — and subsequently get higher emphasis placed on — the region's transportation needs at the state level. As a unified voice, the region wielded more influence in Raleigh, and its work became known in neighboring states. The combination of Gray's organizational skills and connections — he is the retired president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce — and the recognized power of regional cooperation played a role in moving the widening of I-77 higher up the state's priority list. It had been ranked as low as 93rd on NCDOT's Long-Range Transportation Improvement Plan.
The group's initiative to convene a special panel of the Urban Land Institute in 2010 helped to resurrect the Red Line from the CATS project cemetery with its projection of significant regional economic development resulting from the line. That dovetailed with the NCDOT's interests to make the state a major player in Southeastern freight logistics.
But as two of its points of emphasis — the Red Line and I-77 — have begun to move forward with their own momentum, Travis acknowledges the LNTC has slipped into the background. And while Gray and Thunberg continue to work with state and local officials on the region's two major transportation issues, the LNTC is looking at other areas to bring to the forefront.
"We're looking at east-west connectivity, which is critically lacking in Huntersville and Cornelius especially, and at multi-modal opportunities, such as the Red Line Bike Trail," says Travis. "Even more important is just continuing to build relationships and common bonds between all the towns so we speak with one voice. We are more effective when working together in areas like transportation and land use.
"We also need to continue to work with legislators to make sure we are building allegiances and relationships with them," he says. "That way, when we have a special need, we have people who will listen to us."