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Charlotte mayor says she hopes NC House speaker 'gives us a chance' on transit plan

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Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said she hopes GOP House Speaker Tim Moore will ultimately support a penny sales tax increase for Mecklenburg County.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said Thursday she hopes to speak with Republican House Speaker Tim Moore soon and convince him that the city’s $13.5 billion transit plan will reduce congestion.

Earlier this week, Moore dismissed the city’s plan, which would spend 80% of the money on light rail and buses, along with smaller amounts for greenways, bike lanes, sidewalks and roads. In a forum Monday at the Charlotte Business Alliance, Moore said repeatedly that transit is impractical, and that the city needs to spend more money on roads.

Lyles said on "Charlotte Talks" Thursday that she hopes she can change his opinion.

“What I hope is that he will give us a chance during the next several weeks to talk about Charlotte and talk about how we plan to address the mobility for the region,” Lyles said. “And ask him for his feedback. I heard what he said, but I think we can show him some data, too, that says this is where we are trying to go. And then ask him ‘What can we do better? What can do we more of what can we do less of?’ ”

To pay for the plan, Charlotte has proposed raising the sales tax by a penny. The first step is to get the Republican-controlled General Assembly to allow Charlotte to place the tax on the ballot. Voters would then get to have their say through a referendum.


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There's been no public movement toward holding such a vote, however. Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger discussed the tax after a forum at the Charlotte Business Alliance on Monday.

Berger was lukewarm about the plan.

“I need to talk to our members,” he said. “But generally, our folks have been reluctant to increase authorization for sales taxes for localities.”

Moore, however, repeatedly criticized the proposal. His view is fundamentally at odds with the city's vision for reducing auto dependency and shifting half of all trips by 2040 to be in something besides cars.

“What I want to see us talk about when we talk about transportation is not more of these bike lanes, not more of the rail that cost so much, that really only serves a limited purpose,” Moore said. “(But we need to increase) the capacity when it comes to our roads and thoroughfares. You immediately pull out in a street and you are in gridlock. That doesn’t need to happen. We’ve actually got some areas where lanes have been eliminated and put in for bike lanes — no one is on a bike and you can’t get in cars in that area.”

Moore continued:

“At the end of the day when it comes to transportation funding, it has to be responsive to what the needs are. It needs to be focused on not trying to transform people’s habits and them do something different. If you put more bike lanes in, that doesn’t mean more people are going to ride their bikes to work — that’s not going to happen. You need to build and expand roads because we are driving cars.”

Charlotte officials have been trying to line up support from the Mecklenburg towns for the plan. The city has not formally asked Republican lawmakers to back the tax.

The biggest part of the $13.5 billion plan would pay for the Silver Line light rail from Matthews to the airport. That’s expected to cost more than $8 billion.

The next-largest expense would be to expand the bus system. The city hasn’t provided a precise estimate of how much that would cost, but previous figures have included $100 million in capital costs for new buses and about $46 million in new annual operating costs. There also would be money for bike lanes, greenways, and sidewalks.

The plan would also pay for road improvements, though that’s one of the smaller allocations from the proposed sales tax increase.

When asked whether the city would change the plan to spend more money on roads, Lyles said the city wants “to build the type of roads that allow for mass transit and mobility.”

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.