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Regional transportation efforts stall

Jan. 12. By Dave Vieser. Efforts to formally create a regional transportation alliance among the three North Mecklenburg towns have stalled, highlighting the difficulties the region has had over the years in maintaining effective regional transportation planning.

The latest blow came in December when the Huntersville Town Board voted 4-3 against joining the North Meck Alliance. The Alliance was designed to study, investigate and advocate transportation improvements in the Lake Norman area and would essentially replace the three town’s previous participation in the oft-criticized Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission (LNTC). Only Davidson has thus far agreed to formally join the alliance.

The LNTC had come under fire in recent years from officials in the three towns—Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville—for a failure to adequately represent their best interests regarding the I-77 toll lane project, as well as the proposed Red Line commuter rail service from Charlotte to the northern suburbs. Board members in the towns took exception to spending taxpayer dollars to fund the salary of the LNTC’s executive director and pulled out last year. The LNTC continues to exist, but primarily with membership from Iredell County.

“The Alliance members have been meeting informally since August,” said Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla,”but our town attorneys suggested we create a more formal structure through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Half of my board members balked at that and I felt uncomfortable advocating such an approach with a split board, so I voted no.”

Aneralla says the commissioners who voted against the MOU feared that approving such a membership would create the impression that the town was in favor of all projects approved by the alliance, which might not always be the case. He said he has no plans to reintroduce the MOU at a future town board meeting, but also believes there is no reason why the three towns cannot continue to meet on an informal basis.

“It is effective for the towns to meet before the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization meetings,” Aneralla said, explaining that Charlotte virtually controls the entire organization based on weighted voting.

Whether meeting informally with staff members and key commissioners requires an executive director is part of what this is all about.

“The North Meck Alliance and the MOU that we were in the process of proposing to this board didn’t pass in Huntersville” said Cornelius Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam at the town board’s first meeting in 2017 on January 3.. “We haven’t considered approving the MOU here yet but we’re going to move forward with the operation of the North Meck Alliance anyway. Some of us don’t know that we need a formal agreement anyway since a lot of good came out of our informal meetings, which is the heart and purpose of that organization.We’ll keep moving. One day, we might have a formal agreement. We’ll see. Stand by on that one.”

Further complicating the regional transportation picture is the population-based structure of CRPTO, the agency that calls the shots on what transportation projects get approved for the region. As currently set up, the city has an overwhelming majority of the votes, as was demonstrated in the recent vote to continue the I-77 toll lane project.

This renders the votes of the northern towns essentially moot and suburban officials would like to see the voting ratio switched to a different formula, perhaps one which reflects the mileage of a project within the respective towns.

However changes in CRPTO’s voting structure would require state legislation, a highly questionable accomplishment given the mood these days among many elected officials in Raleigh.

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