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Lobbyist: Charlotte needs regional agreement before heading to Raleigh for transit funding

A train on the Blue Line
Crystal Hogue
The Blue Line in Charlotte could be the blueprint for a regional rail network, if surrounding counties agree.

Charlotte City Council’s transportation committee heard Monday that it might be a while before the city asks legislators in Raleigh for new transit and mobility funding. And it might require more regional cooperation. 

One of the biggest unresolved questions in Charlotte is when, or even if, the City Council will ask Raleigh for the authority to put a one-cent sales tax on the ballot. Charlotte would use that tax to fund its $13.5 billion transit plan, including the proposed Silver Line light rail.

So far, the city hasn’t formally proposed the idea to Raleigh, and Republican legislative leaders have said they’re skeptical.

State Rep. Tim Moore, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, has said Charlotte's plan should focus on roads, not transit. As proposed now, Charlotte's plan would spend about 80% of the money on transit, most of that on the 26-mile, east-west Silver Line.

Dana Fenton, the city’s lobbyist, told City Council member James "Smuggie" Mitchell at a committee hearing on Monday that Charlotte needs to get its neighboring counties to agree to a joint plan — and funding — so they can go to Raleigh together to ask for funding. Republicans control the surrounding counties, so a regional consensus might have a greater chance of success.

"We would have to wait until there’s a regional funding and finance plan that’s been accepted by the region," said Fenton.

"Oh wow … OK," Mitchell replied.

"We’re limited by that at this point," said Fenton.

Charlotte unveiled its transit plan back in 2020. Mitchell said he hoped to see a more aggressive push with the state legislature.

"I just feel like we’re stuck in neutral. Is it just me?" Mitchell asked.

City Council will try to figure out a strategy to build regional support for transit in the coming months. The Centralina Regional Council has proposed a largely bus-focused regional transit plan that would start with smaller-scale cooperation such as synchronizing schedules and fares.

It's not clear how long building a new transit plan — and the regional buy-in for it — might take. Time is running perilously short this year, as the state House is expected to release a budget in the next month or so, with the legislature hoping to adjourn by July. And it's unclear whether surrounding counties would agree to fund a plan that's largely centered around Charlotte.

Even if the legislature gives Charlotte the go-ahead to ask for a sales tax on the ballot, the city will still have to sell a referendum to another group for the final say — local voters.


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Ely Portillo has worked as a journalist in Charlotte for over a decade. Before joining WFAE, he worked at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Charlotte Observer.