The General Assembly's much ballyhooed 21st Century Transportation Study Committee finally got at least a little serious about that "21st Century" part of its name yesterday during a gathering in Charlotte. After spending essentially all of its first few meetings talking about nothing but roads, roads and more roads, the group actually devoted a portion of its time yesterday to public transit.
Highlighting the discussion was an extremely impressive presentation by Keith Parker, CEO of the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Parker told Committee members how the main challenge confronting the new LYNX commuter rail service was how to deal with the larger than expected ridership. He also offered extremely encouraging news about Charlotte's expanded and improving commuter bus service, the system's planned expansions, the remarkable level of new economic development surrounding commuter rail lines and, perhaps most encouragingly, the region's growing commitment to land use planning. All in all, it was an extremely impressive and hopeful presentation that offered convincing evidence North Carolina can progress and conquer its addiction to mindless sprawl and gas guzzlers.
Amazingly enough, Parker's presentation was echoed in many ways by the chair of the Committee's subgroup on "intermodal" transportation, former lawmaker and state Transportation Secretary, Sam Hunt. Hunt did a great job of telling the full Committee in blunt terms that Charlotte's recent 70-30 vote in favor of retaining its transportation sales tax "changes everything" and that "the time to act [to jump start public transit] is now." This is the vote, many will recall, in which the anti-government crowd got waxed last fall. He called on the group to endorse at least $1.2 billion in new spending in the coming years for public transit.
The group will meet again in Wilmington in February. Let's hope it continues to build upon the momentum for change that was launched yesterday in Charlotte. Yesterday's presentations will be available on the Committee's website shortly.
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