The Region Will Benefit from Collaboration: Let’s Recapture the Vision

I am sharing a presentation I gave to the Metropolitan Transit Commission on Wednesday, January 25th. It is my strong belief that the Gateway Station area in Downtown Charlotte must have a development plan in order for all the other components in transit to work. I was asked after the meeting, “Why would a lady from Huntersville care about Charlotte planning?” and the answer is simple — what happens in Charlotte affects my town. I want to be part of the visioning process that looks at what will not only work now, but will work tomorrow and a decade or more from today.

I shouldn’t be the one suggesting that we get moving on the Gateway Station — the only station on the current transit plan that does NOT have a plan associated with it. This is a Charlotte plan, but one so impactful that there should be seats at the table from regional leaders, business leaders, the NCDOT, the Knights, Duke, Bank of America and the Stadium, and perhaps the MPO’s and RPO’s from surrounding areas. And probably more.

Someone had to take the bull by the horns. Someone has to realize that planning is not territorial. It is simply good leadership.

The result at the MTC meeting was suggested by Anthony Foxx: Have our various planning departments decide what the current status is. Hmmm. You can rest assured that I will follow up.  For the success of our region, this issue cannot afford to sit on tables in beautifully-bound reports. We must act soon.

Presentation to MTC:

In 1994, Charlotte created a “Committee of 100,” comprised of business and political leaders and charged with creating a vision for the region: a vision for land use and transportation modes that would guide the way to well-planned growth for an area that was drawing a high percentage of new residents from all over the country.

The Committee of 100 recommended five regional transportation and development areas, directing density to be highest nearest to the transportation modes, putting focus on areas previously ignored and highlighting the need for a long-range transit plan with options for funding.

In 1996-97, the Committee of 10, a whittled-down version of the previous committee, fine-tuned the report that had been endorsed by Charlotte and the “ring towns,” and led the area to legislation that enabled a half-cent local sales tax and developed a five year transportation plan.

In the following years, there have been additional studies and re-commitment to these efforts and growth has, for the most part, been guided by the original tenets of the Committees and those that followed.  Charlotte has worked toward many of those goals, as have the surrounding towns. Charlotte has redefined itself as not only a banking hub, but a regional player in attracting national and international corporate entities in a variety of industries. The ring towns have seen significant growth and opportunities for economic development. Although transit services have expanded, the continued demands for infrastructure and transit improvement are growing even faster.

At the same time, federal, state and local funding for necessary and visionary infrastructure projects has become more competitive, causing the very entities that have worked together in the past to become more territorial and less regional in our thinking. I have attached several examples of projects that are moving forward, but should/could be included in a regional vision and headlines that indicate the time is right to be discussing a unified approach.

Despite the challenges, the support for regional transit is clear:  There has been forward movement on both the light rail “Blue Line” and the commuter rail “Red Line,” along with support by the Charlotte City Council for the streetcar project.  As these projects have gained momentum, it is becoming increasingly clear that the hub for these lines and future lines will culminate at what is called the Gateway Station area.

In 2009, Charlotte Center City Partners, along with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, collaborated and paid for an extensive study and draft for a 2020 Vision plan to guide development in and around the Charlotte Center City. This plan was presented and released in draft form this summer.

As I have spent some time looking at this plan over the past month or so, it has become clear to me that this 2020 Plan ties in all the components that we on the MTC address:  Intermodal and multi-modal ties to not only the neighborhoods and business centers in Charlotte, but those beyond, including my town of Huntersville, only 15 miles north of Charlotte. Of key importance to this vision is the strong regional support for the 2030 Transit Corridor Plan.

What has motivated me to go to the effort of presenting this to the MTC is that I believe this plan has the potential to move our region from a project-based mentality, back to a more comprehensive, unified, long-term vision. I have especially been impressed that the “players” that are essential to the overall success of our decades of visioning are included in this same plan:  City, Town, County, regional leaders, Norfolk Southern, CATS, NCDOT, business leaders and more.  While the focus of the 2020 Plan was originally Charlotte-centric, the effects of its development are already being felt regionally. Residents in outlying towns who utilize transit to get to Charlotte for business or pleasure will reach the Gateway Station area and will rely on good planning to get them to their next destination.

Very simply, without a plan for that area, the pieces of the regional puzzle may not ever fit together.

I believe that it is time for us to gather together again to create a far-reaching vision for our transit system and related development. I call upon the MTC to be the leader in convening the players necessary to move forward with that vision. We need to plan NOW for how we want the area to work and to be successful for the arteries of transit and the veins of growth.  I would like the MTC to champion a visionary committee, working with the key stakeholders, including the MPOs and RPOs in the region, that will once again put the Charlotte region’s forward-thinking process on the map.

We can be the group that guides the Charlotte region to its next successes.


Author: jillswain

Former Mayor Chamber of Commerce Exec. Director Advertising consultant Mom and spouse (30 years and counting!) Rec league girls' volleyball coach Champion of all things Huntersville, North Carolina

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