Friday, February 17, 2012

Commuter rail to Gaston and Union counties?

Here's an interesting snippet from deep inside a report to a Charlotte City Council committee. It suggests that some of the money from a proposed special tax on property along the proposed Red Line commuter rail would be set aside to help pay for commuter rail to Union and Gaston counties.

This is intriguing, but extremely preliminary.

The mention is in a memo emailed to council members of the Transportation and Planning Committee in advance of the panel's Feb. 23 meeting (noon-1:30 p.m. in the city-county government center, room 280); the documents haven't been posted online yet.

The Red Line proposal is complex, but in a nutshell it proposes setting up a special tax district near the would-be commuter rail line from uptown Charlotte to north of Davidson. Whether it would extend into Iredell County remains an open question; Iredell County commissioners have been relentlessly negative so far. Here's a link to a slide-show presentation the city council committee heard last month. The idea is to upgrade the not-well-used existing Norfolk Southern tracks for both commuter rail and more freight traffic. You've heard of Transit-Oriented Development? The idea is to promote Freight-Oriented Development, luring industries and jobs in some spots, as well as mixed-use residential and retail development in other spots.

The special tax district flanking the rail line would assess 75 cents per $100 of property value on income-producing property, that is, not on single-family residential property. For most of the special tax district, 75 percent of the revenue would go to pay for building and operating the Red Line, with 25 percent going to the local municipality.

BUT, the Friday report emailed to the committee says, "At Charlotte Gateway Station, the proposal would:
• Direct 25% of the tax increment capture proceeds to the Red Line.
• Direct 75% of the tax increment capture to a reserve fund for future commuter rail projects to Union and Gaston Counties
The proposal presumes the future commuter rail projects to Union and Gaston Counties would terminate at Charlotte Gateway Station."

The Gateway Station is the long-proposed new Amtrak station on West Trade Street, which would also be the end point of the commuter rail line. Some people, notably local planner and architect Michael Gallis, have criticized the idea of having two different rail stations, one at Gateway and the other, for the Blue Line light rail, six or seven blocks away at the Transportation Center. The Charlotte Area Transit System proposes running shuttles between the two stations.

But commuter rail to Gaston County? If you're thinking that's more pie-in-the-sky than anything you've heard recently, then consider this: The N.C. Department of Transportation has bought several chunks of the old Piedmont and Northern Railroad right-of-way that runs from uptown Charlotte through the Wesley Heights neighborhood, crosses Tuckaseegee Road, crosses the Catawba River near N.C. 27 and heads into Mount Holly. CSX owns much of the line in Mecklenburg County, but the state owns enough of the Gaston County sections that it is introducing freight traffic there. Hmmm. The old P&N was an electrified passenger rail line built and operated between Charlotte and Gastonia by a precursor of Duke Energy. When passenger service stopped it became a freight line.

Commuter rail to Union County, though, might be in that pie-in-sky category. 

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