Transit is Essential to Our Regional Economy and Local Quality of Life
Michelle Nance, Planning Director, Centralina Regional Council
As our region continues to grow, access to reliable, safe and well-connected public transportation must be a priority to ensure everyone can benefit. Even during uncertain times, we know there is a continued need to move people within communities and across the region and that doing so is critical to remaining economically competitive and ensuring our communities are livable and equitable for all. To address these issues, our region has embarked on a transformational mobility initiative, CONNECT Beyond, that aims to promote and harness economic growth while helping our neighbors and visitors easily get where they want and need to go. Our success requires collaboration, insight, creativity and a bold vision.
Our 12-county bi-state region of 2.6 million is expected to add 1.4 million more people by 2045. This new population, whether young professionals or seniors, brings transportation needs and expectations and creates a sense of urgency.
A mix of regional and local public transportation options, including rail, bus, and van service is important for the region’s economic development, talent attraction and business recruitment. The presence of effective public transit systems has become a top-tier factor when companies choose headquarters and expansion locations. Compared to our national peers, Charlotte has limited regional transit options; a robust regional transit system can be our difference maker.
Transportation infrastructure is the blueprint that guides development. Historically, sea and river navigation routes, railroad corridors and highways have served to define communities. Public transportation is poised to be the new organizing principle for economically viable, attractive growth, providing the foundational investments to spur walkable, mixed-use, transit-served communities. Concentrating growth within transit corridors locates development in areas where public investments have already been made, maximizing the public’s return on those investments.
For individuals, transit is an important factor in independence and long-term upward economic mobility. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, household transportation expenses averaged $10,043 per year in 2018, making transportation the second largest household expenditure category. Reducing this burden is especially important to those on a fixed income. Transit can also facilitate economic opportunity and equity by increasing access to education, jobs, housing and life-sustaining services such as preventative medical care, healthy food and childcare – allowing seniors to age in place and providing independence for persons with disabilities. Improving transportation choices and accessibility represents a step in the right direction to enhancing equity in our region.
Recently, a group of Charlotte leaders, led by former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, heard from three peer regions, Nashville, Austin and Broward County Fla., on their successes and failures related to transportation. The common messages were that transportation is regional, building coalitions is imperative and plans must be bold.
The good news is our region is already on the path to success. Spearheaded by the Centralina Regional Council and the Charlotte Area Transit System, the CONNECT Beyond initiative will identify high capacity transit corridors that can support light rail, bus rapid transit, express bus, or commuter rail and find opportunities for integrated local bus service, rural connections and mobility hubs where walking, biking, transit, and shared mobility come together. Strategies identified will be carried through by project partners including two state departments of transportation and area Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), focused on outcomes that support improved mobility and access, regionally coordinated transit investments and operations and the advancement of equitable community-driven improvements.
Our region’s success has centered on the interconnectedness created through transportation. As we consider our post-COVID economy and how our communities and our residents will fare, we must keep public transportation as a top priority.
For more information on CONNECT Beyond visit www.CONNECT-Beyond.com.
Michelle Nance is the Planning Director for the Centralina Regional Council. She has advanced local, regional, and state-level land use, transportation, and economic policy for over twenty-five years.
Alternative website link: https://centralina.org/regional-collaboration/regional-transit/