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What will future travel look like in Charlotte? Centralina Regional Council has plan called ‘Connect Beyond’

The Centralina Regional Council has been around since 1968. It’s made up of nine counties
Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 4:42 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - How will we get around in the future here in Charlotte?

The city of Charlotte has been talking about its plan for a Transformational Mobility Network.

We’re talking trains, busses, roads, bikes, greenways, sidewalks.

To do it all would cost north of $20 billion.

Some of it would be paid for by a 1 cent sales tax increase in Mecklenburg County.

“I’ve publicly stated I wouldn’t support it under any circumstances,” Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla said.

Charlotte City Council looked for a reboot at its annual retreat held last month.

There was talk of making sure there was an even more regional approach to the idea of building out transportation infrastructure.

“Part of the strategy has been to build a coalition on the front end as opposed to charlotte trying to, choose my words carefully here, impose something on the rest of the region,” Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones said.

And that means a wider net past even Mecklenburg.

The Centralina Regional Council has been around since 1968. It’s made up of nine counties.

The thinking is big issues we face don’t stop at county lines so it’s better to work together on some of these things.

Transportation is one of them.

It’s why Centralina Regional Council has its own plan.

It’s called Connect Beyond.

The idea is to build mobility networks.

We’re not talking about new interstate roads.

We’re talking more about coordinated mass transit.

It could be trains, busses or other ways of travel, things that would make it easier and more efficient to, for example, get from your home in Rowan County to a doctors appointment in Huntersville or a ballgame in Kannapolis

On Your Side Tonight’s Jamie Boll sat down with Geraldine Gardner, Executive Director of the Centralina Regional Council, to better understand all this.

On Your Side Tonight’s Jamie Boll sat down with Geraldine Gardner, Executive Director of the Centralina Regional Council, to better understand all this.

Geraldine Gardner: “The Transformational Mobility Network is what’s needed in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. And that’s really part of the foundation of Connect Beyond, just like the Cabarrus County long-range transportation plan is the foundation. So we’re sort of building upon the work that’s already been done, but creating that North star that the region can rally behind.” “What we’re focusing on with Connect Beyond are the complementary investments in our public transit system, and our bike lanes in our sidewalks systems in the transformational technology that we can use to expand people’s choices.”

“So, more bus lines going out farther rail lines, eventually, that sort of thing. Even beyond the places we’ve already talked about up toward Davidson to toward, I guess, Union County and out to the airport.” “And not just that, but think about the system itself. Right now, if you were a senior citizen living in Salisbury, and you had to get to a specialized medical appointment in Huntersville, your options of getting there outside of driving in your own vehicle are quite limited. You might take three different buses, it might take you three hours to get there, or you could spend $80 on an Uber ride.”

“So, what we’re talking about is having more coordination across the system. In many of our competing regions, whether it’s Boston, Denver, Nashville, you can go on an app and plan your trip across multiple counties, you can buy one ticket to go across counties. We can’t do that here yet, and I think we can. And those are the types of investments that this plan focuses on, that are complementary to building more lines, but it’s the things that we can do today.”

Jamie Boll: Well, that’s it or you describe is there enough demand for that to make a cost-effective?

Geraldine Gardner: “I mean, that’s part of the reason why we have to focus on making investments to improve the rider experience today. Because if we can’t show the ridership is there, the people, you know, can’t trust taking public transit, that it’s safe and convenient, and people want to take it, then it’s going to be very hard to make those billion-dollar investments that grab headlines. But that’s some of the work that we need to do today and what we’re focused on.”

Jamie Boll: So to build this plan out, how long would it take? How much would it cost?

Geraldine Gardner: “We’ve got lots of roots in our communities with different plans and connect beyond is really the trunk. And there’s going to be lots of branches that grow from our vision from Connect Beyond, lots of follow-on studies that we have to do other coordination activities that we have to do. So, this plan is setting a blueprint for the next 20 years of action.”

“We have the vision, and we know what we can invest it in, we just have to get to execution. So a lot of that regional coordination is coming up next.”

Jamie Boll: The city manager talked about having a regional approach. So, there wasn’t somebody who was thinking Charlotte was trying to take this thing over?

Geraldine Gardner: “I think that’s the city just being very cautious. I think we’re all trying to balance the good intentions of working together, and I don’t think any one of our counties wants to appear like they’re the boss.”

“And I think our process up until this point has been very collaborative. And we’ve been very intentional to make sure that the unique needs of each of our communities and counties is reflected in the plan.”

“So, I’m excited about the collaboration. I think it’s been great. I think part of maybe some of the word challenges that we have is, we talk about regional. When I think region, I think are nine or 12 counties. I think some of the language being used to describe the Transformational Mobility Network is regional, is really just Mecklenburg County, the different towns around exactly which is a form of the region.”

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