Mayor, residents weigh in on push to restudy passenger rail service

A waste of money – that is what Huntersville’s mayor calls a plan to re-study passenger rail service in north Mecklenburg County.

A meeting scheduled at Huntersville Town Hall Monday evening plans to discuss what to do with the sales tax money.

If you eat out in Mecklenburg County – this affects you. At 6:30 p.m. Monday town commissioners are set to meet to discuss how to spend the county’s sales tax money.

Right now, there are tracks in the area that are only used to move freight so residents can’t just hop on a train as a passenger and get from Huntersville to uptown Charlotte.

But Lindsay Ewald said it’s important to her family to have that option in the future.

“We made an investment in property eight years ago with the thought of Huntersville up and coming and the light rail for us means property value increase. It means a chance for us to jump on the light rail and go down to Charlotte,” she said.

The question now is should another study be done on the passenger rail in northern Mecklenburg County? It would cost more than $2 million over the next two years. The money used for that study would come from the sales tax residents pay when they eat out at restaurants in Mecklenburg County – or when they use other services.

“I think right now a study of basically a project that is not going to be at all fundable is a waste of time and money,” Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla said.

Mayor Aneralla wants town commissioners to vote for a resolution Monday night that would ask the Metropolitan Transit Commission to take the money set aside for the study, and instead use it to fund improvements to things like bus stops.

For example, there is a stop on HWY 73 in Huntersville where this is no shelter or sidewalk for bus riders and it’s right next to a four lane highway.

“A lot of people are walking on busy roads to get to a bus stop and standing there in six-inch grass and ravines, very unsafe.”

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) said it needs to re-study the passenger rail because things have changed since the last study was done in 2002. Back then the owner of the line said the line could be used for passenger trains. CATS also said the study is necessary for future funding of the passenger rail service from its state and federal transportation partners.

Now, Norfolk Southern said passenger trains don’t fit in its future plans for the line.

“Really, the only alternative is the current line and if we can’t use it, we’re accepting of that but let’s at least improve the bus service for the people that for almost 20 years have been paying an extra half cent sales tax,” Mayor John Aneralla said.

The Huntersville Mayor said other towns like Cornelius and Pineville plan to talk about this very issue – and they will need a majority of towns to be able to convince the Metropolitan Transit Commission to reallocate those funds for the commuter rails and use them for other transportation improvements.