By CHRISTINA RITCHIE ROGERS
Town staff in the coming weeks will be recruiting citizens for a new Cornelius Rail Task Force that will analyze plans for the proposed Red Line commuter rail project north of Charlotte. The Town Board on Monday endorsed plans for the new citizen committee. Commissioners on Monday also voted to support research and development of a plan for a $30 million walking and biking trail that could run along the future Red Line tracks between Mooresville and Charlotte. And they unanimously approved a rebate program that rewards commercial and industrial ElectriCities customers for energy efficiency.
Also at the meeting, ElectriCities Spokesman Craig Norfolk presented the town with a Public Power Award of Excellence, recognizing efforts by the town to create a strong business climate, regional partnership, online economic development presence, and focus on key customer accounts.
At the meeting, the board:
- Adopted a resolution supporting the concept of a 30-mile north/south walking and biking trail that could run along the future Red Line railroad tracks between Mooresville and Charlotte. The project is estimated to cost $30 million, and the towns of Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville would likely be the first to get the trail, Red Line Trail Initiative Group director Gwen Cook said. With the support of the towns, the group will move forward with a fesibility study and will seek funding for a detailed master plan, she said. The resolution adopted Monday does not commit the town to any financial contribution. But if the project moves forward, towns would be expected to contribute, Ms. Cook said. View the resolution here (PDF).
- Amended the operating budget to include $165,000 to purchase offsite storage, using funds from the 911 fund balance that are eligible to be spent on public safety expenditures during FY 2012.
- Voted unanimously to establish a lighting rebate program that would, under Senate Bill 3, promote the development of renewable energy and energy-efficient methods at ElectriCities. Commercial and industrial customers served by ElectriCities are eligible for a rebate of $0.35 per watt saved when a more efficient lighting system is installed at an existing facility. Funding for this program is provided by the N.C. Municipal Power Agency No. 1. Craig Norfolk anticipates a lot of interest from customers, he said. View the resolution here (PDF).
- Approved refinancing options for two town loans that will result in lower interest rates and about $80,000 in savings, according to Town Manager Anthony Roberts.
A presentation from Senior Planner Jason Abernethy on the town’s Comprehensive Master Plan framework, originally planned for Monday’s meeting, was postponed until the board’s Dec. 5 meeting. Newly-elected board members Jeff Hare and John Bradford were unable to attend the meeting, and board members felt it would be best to postpone the presentation until they were there. The men will be sworn in as new board members at that meeting.
At the end of the meeting Monday, Mayor Jeff Tarte thanked Commissioner Thurman Ross for his 16 years of service. Commissioner Ross lost his seat by 2 votes in the Nov. 8 election, and Monday’s was his last meeting at the dais.
CORNELIUS RAIL TASK FORCE
Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant presented a draft document outlining the scope of work for a Cornelius Rail Task Force. The task force will be charged with analyzing the work done by the Red Line Task Force, a standing committee established by the Metropolitan Transit Commission to advance the Red Line rail project, a proposed 25-mile north/south train line from Charlotte to Mooresville.
The Cornelius task force would include town staff, citizens and consultants with expertise in rail, land-use and public-private partnerships, Mr. Grant said. The task force’s charge would be to review and validate the work of the Red Line Task Force, a committee established by the Metropolitan Transit Commission in June 2010 to focus on finding alternative means to finance and advance the Red Line rail project.
“We need senior, experienced, veteran leadership around this critical issue,” Commissioner Dave Gilroy said.
The Red Line Task Force in August defined a set of policy statements guiding plans for the rail project, and now are pitching the line as an economic development initiative that would move freight as well as commuters and would be governed by a “Joint Powers of Authority” (JPA). The new organization would be established by agreement between NC DOT, CATS, Mecklenburg and Iredell counties, and the towns of Mooresville, Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville.
The N.C. Department of Transportation, CATS, local officials and consultants are still working on a draft financing plan for the line. They expect to unveil that Nov. 30 at a joint meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and at a public meeting Dec. 13 in Mooresville.
Mayor Tarte said Monday night that January might be a good time to call for a directed vote to signal the town’s intentions, and said he’d like to ask the other towns involved to do the same.
He also said the town should identify “immediate deal-breakers” – those elements of the plan that would prevent the town from supporting it. Mayor Tarte gave as the following examples of his “non-negotiables”:
- No burden on taxpayers
- No requirement to change zoning
- No taxing authority given to the JPA
Commissioner Gilroy, who has publicly expressed his concerns surrounding the project, said the town needs to shift from “cheerleading to sober analysis.” He called for board members and town staff to be “methodical and deliberate at this stage of the process so we have full awareness of what the vote will be about at the next MTC session.”
According to North Carolina’s deputy transportation secretary for transit Paul Morris, with buy-in from the towns and the city, the Red Line would be planned and built over the next several years, but likely would not begin operating until 2017.
October 27, 2011: “Officials say new regional authority should run rail project”
October 5, 2011: “Commuter rail funding strategy looks at regional benefits”
Read more about the Red Line planning on the Charlotte Area Transit System’s RideTransit.org website.