HENDERSON — This year should prove to be an important one in determining the fate of the proposed S-Line rail corridor, which would link Raleigh to Richmond, Virginia and bring passenger rail service through Henderson again.

Henderson and Norlina were among a group of seven cities including the state capital that were targeted toward the end of 2021 for a series of community pop-up meetings, involving the N.C. Department of Transportation as well as transportation and engineering consulting firms, about the proposed S-Line rail corridor.

Next will come a transit-oriented development study of Henderson to gauge the economic impact of the S-Line, which would also expand freight service.

“There is no definitive timeline as when this project could happen,” said Henderson City Manager Terrell Blackmon. “However, the transit-oriented development study should be completed by the end of 2022. We expect to know more about specific project funding for the S-line later in 2022, as well.”

Blackmon and Assistant City Manager Paylor Spruill believe the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into federal law Nov. 15, 2021, will positively impact the S-Line project.

Spruill said the new legislation “includes $12 billion for state-led national intercity rail development outside of the Northeast with an additional $8.75 billion subject to annual appropriations.”

DOT touted S-Line project progress in a video last month on its website recapping the year in rail for North Carolina.

“Efforts to establish high-performance rail service between Raleigh and Richmond on the S-Line are ongoing,” the DOT video proclaimed. “The department is working with Virginia and communities along the line in planning and engineering future rail services and development opportunities.”

A summary of the community pop-up meetings was made available on Dec. 15, 2021. The meeting in Henderson was held downtown on Dec. 4 during the Christmas parade, part of the DOT Integrated Mobility Division’s planning initiative for Henderson and Norlina, along with Raleigh, Sanford, Apex, Wake Forest and Franklinton.

One of the key takeaways for planning agents seeking information about the future of rail service in Henderson, according to DOT’s summary, was that residents here want to “preserve nearby residential communities and keep them affordable.”

For Norlina, the snapshot was “a rail station and new development would help revitalize the area and get back to the historical roots of the community.”

The S-Line is considered by DOT to be a “key missing link within the larger vision for passenger rail service in the Southeast Corridor.”

Transit-oriented development planning means the evaluation of market conditions, affordable housing, multi-modal transportation opportunities and regulatory conditions.

Recreating a vibrant downtown Henderson, while creating more jobs as well as shopping, dining and entertainment options, is also considered to be a community priority as it relates to the S-Line project.

Blackmon believes the S-Line would provide Henderson an improved transportation option in addition to employment and economic development opportunities.

“The S-Line will provide a combination of freight and passenger rail,” Blackmon said. “However, the possibility of commuter rail service to Henderson could make our city a destination stop for things like shows at McGregor Hall and other cultural events that occur throughout the year, such as the car show.”

Henderson-Vance County Chamber of Commerce President Michele Burgess was on hand for the Dec. 4 event held downtown and said she is excited about the possibilities of future business growth and the awareness of the community the S-Line could bring. She noted that the Chamber Governmental and Public Affairs Division identified the project as a top priority several years ago.

“I have been following this effort with great interest,” Burgess said, “and agree with my chamber colleagues at the Sanford and Wake Forest chambers of commerce, who are also located on this corridor, that this railway needs to be preserved to maintain our existing rail service and to also bring back passenger rail service.

“I want our Chamber to be a key player with an active presence at upcoming city and county planning meetings to advance this project.”

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