CHARLOTTE – It will take time. It will be expensive. It will be complex. And it will require commitment from residents of Iredell, Lincoln, Gaston and surrounding counties. But the development of a regional transit network will also be vital for the future success and economic survival of every community in the steadily growing Charlotte metropolitan area.
In guest presentations, panel discussions and participant input, the importance of a unified effort to promote transit – not just to move people, but to enhance the quality of life throughout the region – was the focal point of Regional Transit Summit 2018 held May 17 at UNC-Charlotte.
Organized by the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) and the Centralina Council of Governments (COG), the day-long gathering attracted attendees from north Mecklenburg, Iredell, Lincoln and Gaston counties along with elected officials, transportation planners and business leaders from throughout a 14-county region anchored by Charlotte. Panel-discussion participants included Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins, who endorsed the concept of encouraging a widespread partnership on transportation issues.
In his panel discussion comments, Atkins said he hoped Mooresville and Iredell County would “embrace what COG is doing” to help plan the future. He said there are “a lot of people who live in Mooresville and work in Charlotte, but there are also commuters going both ways.”
Atkins said it would be important for the community to work with Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) officials on rail as well as bus rapid transit (BRT) plans. And he said Mooresville's involvement in the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, which now includes Mooresville Davidson, Troutman, Statesville and Iredell County, has already provided the experience of working together to identify and work toward transit goals. “You can't do it by yourself,” Atkins said. “Growth is going to continue, and in planning for it we will be a lot stronger when we are speaking with one collaborative voice.”
Summit fueled by research
The summit was a follow-up to a three-year COG study that identified priorities and future expectations from officials and citizens throughout the region. COG's research and compilation of statistics and circumstances – coordinated by Project Manager Sushil Nepal, a long-range and transportation planner in Huntersville – led to the development of the “Connect Our Future” comprehensive outline of the challenges and opportunities in a region where the current fast pace of population growth is expected to accelerate.
“We're expected to grow by another Charlotte and two Raleighs,” COG Planning Director Michelle Nance said during the summit, providing perspective to “Connect Our Future” estimates predicting the region will add 1.8 million residents by 2050.
And Debbie Collins, public transportation division director for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, added that North Carolina is expected to be the nation's eighth most populous state by 2035 (it is ninth today) with Charlotte and Raleigh remaining the primary points of congestion. “We have to plan bigger,” Collins said, using a chart showing daily commuter trips between parts of the Charlotte region in her presentation, “and the regional system will be part of a statewide network.”
One piece of the puzzle
The summit served as the first step in a planned effort to expand communication between counties and communities about transit needs.
“It's time to go out to the communities, take this show on the road,” guest speaker John Martin, a transportation futurist and president and chief executive officer of the Southeastern Institute of Research, told several hundred people in attendance at the summit. Martin joined Maria Garcia
Berry, founder and CEO of CRL Associates in Colorado, as featured guests at the summit. Both emphasized the importance of transit planning and the value of communication and teamwork among all participating communities. And they also stressed a coordinated and comprehensive transit system addressing needs of each town and county would be a multi-faceted regional asset.
“It's not just transit, it's about mobility and every aspect of the entire community,” Berry said. Berry and CRL have played leading roles in a 7-county transit collaborative effort in the Denver, Col. area. That system includes (or has planned) a network to include 122 miles of rail service, 18 miles of bus rapid transit (BRT) routes, 57 bus stations, a new bus service hub and 21,000 parking spaces at 31 new park and ride locations.
She said the transit campaign in Colorado went “county by county” and added it is vital “everyone puts skin in the game” to make a regional network successful.
The next phase of the COG-encouraged effort will be meetings about regional transit ideas in individual counties and communities around Charlotte. Ron Smith, COG's executive director and a former Iredell County planner and county manager, said he hopes those sessions begin this summer.
“Transit is at the top of everyone's list,” Smith said. “We want to look at the MTC and CATS plans and take them out to other areas and get feedback.”