Thursday, September 1, 2011

But, Mayor Pat, do you back light rail?

Photo of Third Street station courtesy Charlotte Area Transit System
(See update at end, 6:30 p.m.)
Ex-CATS chief Ron Tober sends along a link to a nice little video about the Lynx Blue Line and South End. It praises the way the light rail line brings neighborhoods together, helps people move about the city without cars and builds for the future.

The film (apparently made by Siemens, hence the talking heads from that company) quotes many Charlotte notables, including Charlotte Planning Director Debra Campbell, Duke Energy's North Carolina president Brett Carter, UNC Charlotte Dean of Arts + Architecture Ken Lambla, UNCC profs David Walters and Jose Gamez, Levine Museum historian Tom Hanchett ...

... and former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

This is worth pointing out because McCrory, a seven-term mayor who is all but certainly running again for N.C. governor in 2012, has been a strong transit supporter. He has a national reputation for being a strong transit supporter.  That much isn't really news for politics buffs.  But here's a new wrinkle. His Republican Party in North Carolina now appears dominated by anti-transit conservatives.

During the recent General Assembly session, state legislators from Mecklenburg County made several stabs at outright killing any more state funding (and thus, any more federal funding) for Charlotte's light rail system, as well as trying to off the state's long-planned high-speed passenger rail between Charlotte and Raleigh. Last spring, McCrory said he had made calls to Republican legislative leaders about transit, but wouldn't say what he talked about.

This all leaves Mayor Pat with a dilemma.  He can continue to tout his accomplishments as a moderate, pro-transit mayor, which will help him with independents and with any Democrats who have cooled on Gov. Bev Perdue. But that would definitely rile the people now in control of the state Republican Party, not to mention many legislators. Or he can play to his right and somehow distance himself from Charlotte's nationally praised light rail system, one of his most praiseworthy achievements.

I note that on this video, McCrory doesn't say anything that might be pulled out and used as a pro-transit film clip by enemies on the right, who kicked him around a lot when he was mayor, calling him a RINO (Republican in Name Only), or even a socialist, for supporting mass transit. On the film he says innocuous things,  that cities should look to the future, and this "infrastructure" is a good investment.

(Update and rewrite, 6:25 p.m.) McCrory just phoned me back and was pointed in saying he supports mass transit "where it works." If the transportation experts and federal funding formulas say it would work in a certain place, McCrory said, then he's for it. He said he just asks, "What will the numbers look like?"

This is all consistent with his remarks as mayor. But, I asked him, a lot of N.C. Republicans oppose mass transit, so how will he handle that in his campaign? "I'll handle it exactly the same way I handled it as mayor," he said. Some Republicans won't like his answers, he said, and neither will some Democrats.

I've been wondering how McCrory, who is a deft politician, will handle this GOP-hates-transit dilemma. He's on the record now at least with Naked City Blog on mass transit. It will be in interesting political show to see how his campaign plays out on this particular issue.


Kyle Merville said...

I hope that Pat takes his experience in Charlotte to Raleigh. Charlotte has a long way to go on sustainability and growth that supports transit, but most of the efforts towards this occurred while he was mayor.

Anonymous said...

Mary, why don't you do an expose like the one above that Tara Servatius did back in 2006, extolling Parsons for the crooks they were and the foolish ineptitude that our city's leaders were by ignoring other consultant projections about the true cost of light rail and it's ever increasing operating costs and subsidies required.

Now that we'll have fewer workers in Uptown with BofA's announcement, why not an article that discusses the challenges in meeting Ron Tober's own self-described requirement for the light rail to make any sense: Uptown will need to grow to over 100,000 workers over the next decade.

My bet is you won't do anything close to the truth...

Anonymous said...

The truth is that few rarely apply the same scrutiny to highway projects as they do transit projects. How about an expose on how much the cost of I-485 has jumped over the years? Perhaps, Uptown's slower job growth has bought us some time, but we still need to work towards building a regional transit system, while costs are relatively cheaper.

And here's food for thought-- Back when Independence Boulevard was first programmed for expressway conversion in the 1970's, NCDOT estimated the total project cost, from Uptown to NC-51, as equal to what is now just the cost for the latest mile-and-a-half segment (Sharon Amity to Idlewild) getting started. This was before I-485 was even committed, indeed planned then in a different location closer to NC-51, before Ballantyne interests influenced a new alternative.

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