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Tired of traffic? Let's try mass transit

It's time for leaders in Union County to start planning mass transit.

We've become a county with thousands of daily commuters.

Most of the commuter roads, other than Independence Boulevard, are two lanes. Those roads include N.C. 218, Lawyers Road, Idlewild-Secrest Shortcut, Monroe Road/Old Charlotte Highway and Providence Road, which is being widened near Weddington.

There's a clear traffic pattern. Travel into Mecklenburg County on any of those roads during morning rush. They're jammed. Travel into Union on any of those roads in the evening rush. They also are jammed. The crowd slowly disperses as you get deeper into the county.

The roads are lined with subdivisions and more being built.

Road improvements are under way, but mostly it's to make wider, more scenic two-lane roads and add turn lanes. The turn lanes can give some help to traffic flow. However, one lane in each direction, no matter how wide, isn't adequate to move the volume of traffic Union County has.

Drivers face long lines of slow-moving traffic. They also pay a small fortune for gas and, in the course of a week, spend hours in their cars.

Wouldn't we all enjoy spending that time in other places? Wouldn't it be wise to start thinking now about ways to protect our environment? Doesn't that make mass transit a logical alternative?

The greatest demand for mass transit might be in the western part of the county. That doesn't mean people in the east can't also benefit. Eastern Union is more rural and in many parts less affluent. Transportation to better paying jobs might be appreciated.

Union County has a transportation service that targets senior citizens, people with illnesses or disabilities. That service was fine until this county grew into one of the country's fastest growing suburbs.

Now there needs to be a way to efficiently move thousands of people without poisoning our air and burning fuel that will never again be cheap.

Our neighbors, Matthews and Mint Hill, have access to buses run by Charlotte Area Transit System. Pineville has access to the Lynx train and the buses.

CATS has an express bus route into Union. Transit officials say 3,961 people rode that route in July 2007. This year, the number of riders soared to 5,813.

That doesn't include Union County commuters who drive to park-and-ride lots in Mecklenburg and use buses or Lynx.

All of them pay to ride. That's Union County money spent in Mecklenburg, always a sensitive issue.

However, Union County and its growth will forever be linked to Mecklenburg. Think about the members of the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization. That's the group that helps set transportation policy for this region.

Most of our towns, plus the county government, have a voting member. That may not be a majority, but it's enough to get a good discussion going. This has been a thriving car culture for decades. Any talk of change will surely meet with reflexive resistance.

Let's get beyond that and talk analytically about it. Once we get to that point, a plan won't be far away.