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N.C.’s transportation future cannot be solely about roads

By David Howard and Jill Swain
Special to the Observer

Four months ago, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx asked the Metropolitan Transit Commission to support the creation of a task force to determine how to fund the transit vision for the Charlotte region. With the MTC’s vote, we were asked to co-chair this Transit Finance Working Group and purposefully called upon an incredible mix of civic, political and business leaders in the region to serve.

It quickly became clear that no matter the political party or other potential dividing factor, these task force volunteers unanimously agreed that a complete transit vision was essential for our area’s future. All agreed that sustainable funding methods were critical to ensuring the vision was achieved.

We were thrilled when Gov. Pat McCrory released his Strategic Mobility Plan for transportation, to support his idea of a total transportation vision for the state. As released, the Strategic Mobility Plan would take the politics out of transportation funding and include transportation travel times, job creation, congestion and other factors as considerations in the formulas that would determine funding.

We were encouraged when House leadership said the plan would do away with past funding silos and create a single pot of transportation money to be put toward the best use possible – regardless of transportation mode.

But changes made to House Bill 817 in the Senate take away the non-political methodology by focusing the overwhelming majority of the resources only on road projects. Applying a one-size-fits-all solution across the state does not recognize the vast differences regions face when addressing transportation needs.

In the Senate version, the “other modes” of transportation (passenger rail, sidewalks, greenways, buses and bike lanes) must compete with road projects at the “Division Needs” level. This level receives only 30 percent of transportation funds, meaning that each of the 14 highway divisions, including large metropolitan areas, will receive only $36 million annually to fund a variety of competing needs. By forcing a metropolitan region to fund a bus system, greenways, sidewalks, rail, along with other major road needs, the Senate proposal fails to recognize that urban centers have greater needs than can be met with this small level of funding.

We believe alternatives should be permitted to compete for funding. We know, from our research with transit systems across the country, that projects such as inter-city rail and large metropolitan transit projects can provide significant economic and quality of life benefits.

We applaud the efforts of the governor, House and Senate in recognizing it is time for a rewrite of our antiquated transportation project selection system. We also respectfully ask them to recognize that the vast needs of our urban centers cannot be met with insufficient money.

We ask that they allow public transportation to compete on equal footing with all transportation modes in the larger pots of money so we can better address transportation challenges.

We encourage the use of a data-driven process, not politics, to determine our future.

David Howard is a Charlotte City Council member. Jill Swain is mayor of Huntersville.
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