Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor, recently re-elected chairman of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, hopes the meetings this year will be a little smoother than last when, he says, the group was put on the hot seat by former Gov. Pat McCrory, who attempted to toss the Interstate 77 toll lane issue back in their laps.
“We got pulled into the situation when it really wasn’t a decision for us to make. Our group had agreed on toll lanes as a strategy to help the region six years earlier. The specifics of the contract and the agreement were always the responsibility of the state and the governor, not us,” Taylor said.
Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO), the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization, is the group responsible for transportation planning in Mecklenburg, Union and Iredell counties. Its members are elected officials from the municipalities within the three counties. The group meets once a month, with smaller planning groups of professional planning staff from the area, meeting in between.
“We don’t sign contracts, we just set the strategy and preferred plan, and that decision went back six or eight years,” Taylor said.
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On the I-77 situation, “I was getting the brunt of some things not because of what I had done, but because of what a prior chair was perceived to have done years ago,” Taylor said.
Taylor says he got hate-filled phone calls and emails, lots of bad press on social media, and was even accused of attending controversial meetings in Raleigh when he was actually in Matthews conducting town business. But he weathered the storm and was re-elected chairman. Though the going was tough, he says he believes everyone on the CRTPO is wiser for the effort.
“I think the current members of the CRTPO are getting a much better idea of what their role is. Over the past year I think they have come to understand that it’s not as simple to change things as they thought,” said Taylor.
“We have to remember that we are regional, as opposed to municipal, in scope. And we have to realize that everybody’s not going to happy. We are making decisions for 20 to 40 years down the road.”
If you really want projects in your area, you have to ante up to show that you are as committed as the state is.
Though he was called on the carpet last year with a number of citizens unhappy with the I-77 toll contract, those who work with him on CRTPO say he’s the right person for the job, always working for the best for his town as well as the entire area.
“As mayor and chair of CRTPO, Jim Taylor represents the importance of the goal for transportation options planned and needed as our county and region grows,” said Vi Lyles, Mayor Pro Tem of the Charlotte City Council.
“Matthews has I-485; Independence Freeway; the proposed CATS Silver Line and numerous walkable and biking opportunities. As mayor, Jim recognizes the connections for a livable communities and serves to see transportation as a key aspect of it.”
Pineville Mayor Jack Edwards agrees.
“Jim is an outstanding public servant always willing to help. He wants to see Matthews grow and prosper but likewise all of Mecklenburg County. He has his heart in the job and also has done an outstanding job as chair of the CRPTO,” said Edwards.
CRTPO planning coordinator Neil Burke has worked with Taylor on presentations and other items, and says it has always been a positive experience.
“I know him in professional setting. He has always been very fair and knows how to run a meeting extremely well. He also places a great emphasis on public involvement,” said Burke.
Taylor says transparency and public input are important elements in the public process.
“As chairman, I really don’t have any power. I set the agenda and run the meetings, but that’s about it. I do try to help the meetings be as open and transparent as possible and I have tried hard to let everyone participate,” said Taylor.
“Current by-laws only allow 20 minutes of public comment, but I have bent that rule and hopefully fostered a better relationship with citizens who felt like they had not been heard.”
Even those who have disagreed with Taylor on some issues say they respect his leadership skills.
“I have found Mayor Taylor a pleasure to work with. The meetings he runs are both efficient and respectful. While we don’t agree on every matter, I have found him as fair and open to seek my personal as well as public input,” said Woody Washam, Mayor Pro Tem of Cornelius.
Taylor says the rules of the road game are changing and, while he and others may not agree with them, the only way to move forward is to play by them.
“It’s become a pay to play scenario. Instead of municipalities saying ‘We need this project,’ the way NCDOT now works, if a town can put up 20 to 30 percent of the cost, that project will rank much higher on the list. If you really want projects in your area, you have to ante up to show that you are as committed as the state is,” said Taylor.
“Whether you agree or disagree on how we got here, the only way to get the roads we need built is by sharing the cost with the state. Otherwise, nothing will get done.”
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out more about the CRTPO and related committees at www.crtpo.org