What is concerning, is the flagrant distribution of misinformation about the situation with NS. The fixed cost ($452 million) which cannot be true since NS just started looking at the design, which is almost 10 years old and never contemplated freight; the public/private partnership concept, which can only be done with NS; the potential extension to Statesville on land that would have to be purchased, etc. I do not understand why so much false information continues to be promulgated by the supporters.
The concept of no tax liability to the municipalities is clearly a fantasy. While much is said about the willingness of bond holders to invest, they will only do that if the state guarantees the debt. The state, if it would consider this at all, would have to put strong agreements in place with each municipality to assure they do what is needed to make the Red Line successful. It is not clear whether tax increment financing would be legally possible. If so, the towns would have to support all of the growth with only 25 percent of the new tax revenue. If towns cannot support growth with 100 percent of the tax revenue now, how will they do that with only 25 percent?
What doesn't make sense is the rush to judgment being forced on the municipalities with such a complex project. The only reason I have heard so far is that the special assessment district (SAD) can be established and property owners start to be taxed in 2013, that this is necessary to have the Red Line running by 2017. Has anyone polled the affected property owners to see how they feel about the new tax? Can we be assured that the SAD boundaries won't be gerrymandered to affect the outcome? I have heard that discussion is under way in Davidson to do that already.
Where did the 2017 date come from? Norfolk Southern said that the line could not be built by then anyway, so what is the harm in extending the evaluation deadline by six to 12 months to allow more time to evaluate this project? The SAD legislation sunsets June 30, 2013. Has anyone considered finding out if the legislature would lift or extend the sunset date? The original sponsor of the bill would support doing that. I have asked Speaker of the House Thom Tillis about it but have not heard back.
What is also missing here is a Plan B. It is no secret that Charlotte does not really care about the Red Line, that their hearts are dead set on the Blue Line Extension and the streetcar. If the Red Line fails, no tears will be shed in Charlotte. CATS will be able to use all of the $113 million tentatively committed to the Red Line, plus the more than $3.5 million in transit tax funds collected annually by the northern towns to pay for those projects.
For almost two years now, I have been pushing the Town of Cornelius to begin discussions with CATS about improving bus service to and from Cornelius and to have a Park & Ride lot built at Exit 28 to coincide with the planned widening of I-77 and the diverging diamond at the bridge. If the Village Rider service could be redesigned to take people to the Park & Ride, bus service would be available to many more people.
The buses would ride in the I-77 HOT lane, could make multiple stops in Uptown and provide a needed service to our residents. While Mayor Jeff Tarte has indicated he likes the idea, to my knowledge this issue has never made it to CATS or to the MTC. Indeed at the Cornelius planning retreat held recently, improving bus service ranked last in their priority setting (just behind the Red Line). Make no mistake, there will be an effort in the future to increase the transit tax, as it will not generate enough revenue to pay for the 2030 mass transit plan. It barely pays for the estimated cost of the Blue Line Extension.
Another issue not being discussed is whether the transportation legislation currently in process contains those revisions that would make the Red Line project eligible for federal funding. Last I heard, that was definitely possible, but has anyone working on the Red Line been to Washington recently to find out?
So many unanswered questions while the towns are being railroaded (pun intended) to a hasty decision based on a Red Line business plan that has to be seriously questioned based on the revelations in recent weeks.
— Jim Bensman is a former Cornelius Town Commissioner and former town representative to the Lake Norman Transportation Commission.