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Transit Time: Poll finds narrow support for transit sales tax hike
Plus: Besides light rail and buses, what other transportation projects is Charlotte spending money on?
You’re reading Transit Time, a weekly newsletter for Charlotte people who leave the house. Cars, buses, light rail, bikes, scooters … if you use it to get around the city, we write about it. Transit Time is produced in partnership among The Charlotte Ledger, WFAE and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.
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Poll by Charlotte business group finds slim majority backs higher taxes for transit plan — but not a full cent
by Tony Mecia
A new poll suggests Charlotte voters are almost evenly divided over plans to improve the city’s transit options — and that a slim majority supports at least some increase in sales taxes to pay for it.
The poll of Charlotte likely voters, conducted this month by a business group called Forward Charlotte, found that 45% of respondents said they won’t vote in favor of any sales tax increase for transit. But 20% said they could vote for up to a full 1 percentage point increase, 18% said they would vote in favor of whatever leaders recommend and the rest said they were OK with ¼ cent or ½ cent sales tax increase.
There has been virtually no publicly released polling on the transit plan that city leaders have been pushing. The Charlotte Moves Task Force, chaired by former Mayor Harvey Gantt, in December recommended the city pursue mix of light rail, new bus service and expanded greenways, sidewalks, bike paths and roads, at a cost estimated between $8 billion and $12 billion. Half the money would come from local sources that could include sales taxes or property taxes.
The city had been planning to ask the state legislature for permission to hold a sales tax referendum for transit this fall, but those plans appear to be on hold because it seems unlikely there will be a municipal election because of delays with census data. The results of the poll could help bolster the argument to the Republican-led General Assembly to allow a referendum.
The task force proposed a 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax, from 7.25% to 8.25%, which would be about a 14% increase. It would raise an estimated $6.6 billion over 30 years, which works out to about $258 per Mecklenburg County adult per year.
More results: In addition, 85% of respondents said expanding Charlotte’s transit options is “very important” or “somewhat important.” When contrasted with paying for transit using property taxes, respondents said they preferred sales taxes 52-30%.
“It’s about as universal as it gets — Charlotte residents want and need more options for transit, that’s for sure,” said Mark Knoop, Forward Charlotte’s director. “But how to pay for it is a little bit trickier.”
The city of Charlotte touted a poll in February that showed that 62% of residents in Mecklenburg County’s towns outside Charlotte favored increased funding for transit. Poll results can be influenced by the way the question is asked, and the city did not disclose details about the poll questions or methodology. That poll was conducted by the National Resources Defense Council Action Fund, a pro-transit environmental group, and by ALG Research, the top pollster for Joe Biden and Roy Cooper in last year’s election, WFAE reported.
The Forward Charlotte poll was conducted by Forward Communications & Strategies via phone and online methods. It was conducted May 11-12 of 400 likely Charlotte municipal voters, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.89 percentage points.
Among its other findings:
Heading right direction? Residents are split on whether Charlotte is on the right track: 35% said “right track,” 37% said “wrong track” and 29% were unsure.
Happy with Covid response: By a more than 2-to-1 margin, respondents said they were satisfied with how local government responded to the Covid pandemic. “Mostly satisfied” beat out “mostly dissatisfied” 59%-26%.
Approve of the mayor: 50% said they had a favorable opinion of Mayor Vi Lyles, while 32% said they had an unfavorable opinion.
The transit questions and results:
Tony Mecia is executive editor of The Charlotte Ledger.
Potholes, sidewalks, traffic lights and more: the miscellaneous transportation stuff in Charlotte’s budget
Sure, the plans for light rail and improved bus service hog all the headlines.
But there’s plenty more the city of Charlotte does day in and day out on transit and transportation that you don’t often hear about but is often important, at least collectively.
We scoured the recently released 2021-22 city budget to see what some of those less-heralded projects and initiatives are that often get little attention.
Last year’s results, future goals
Sidewalks: Last year, the city says it built 4.83 miles of sidewalks. Next year’s goal: 10 miles
Bikes: Last year, the city says it built 2.12 miles of bikeways. Next year’s goal: 10 miles.
Traffic lights: Last year, the city says it installed 35 new traffic signals and upgraded 57. Next year’s goal: 2 new, 10 upgraded.
Potholes: Last year, the city says it responded to 85% of pothole service requests within 5 days. Next year’s goal: 95%.
Overall, the city says it is responsible for maintaining 5,400 lane miles of streets, 799 traffic signals, 2,250 miles of sidewalks, 184 miles of bicycle facilities and 145,000 traffic signs.
The city also has a Capital Investment Plan that calls for spending money on a variety of longer-term transit- and transportation-related projects over the next several years. In many cases, some of that money comes from bonds that will be voted on in 2022 and 2024.
Some highlights of that budget include:
Complete the Cross Charlotte Trail. $20.5 million in next five years. When complete, it will have more than 30 miles of trails and greenways from Ballantyne to the Cabarrus County line.
Improve sidewalks and pedestrian safety. $70 million in next five years, including $50 million from a planned 2022 bond — more than three times the amount from 2020. The program will fill in sidewalk gaps and install pedestrian crossings and signals.
Improve Eastway Drive/Shamrock Drive intersection. $31 million in next five years. Redesign the intersection to protect drivers and pedestrians; add connector streets to remove left-turn lanes; add a path along Eastway.
Mitigate congestion. $20 million in next five years. “Small-scale, quick infrastructure projects” such as adding turn lanes, extending existing lanes or making new road connections at high-congestion intersections in south Charlotte, Steele Creek and University City.
Resurface streets. $16 million in next five years.
Repair and replace bridges. $11 million in next five years. “Repairing and replacing bridges that do not meet structural capacity and width standards.”
Upgrade traffic control devices. $9.5 million in next five years. Maintain and replace outdated traffic control equipment, including traffic signals, pedestrian signals, detection devices and signs. This work “helps maintain safe and optimal traffic flow.”
Plan and design Silver Line light rail. $19.8 million in 2022. Getting started on planning and design work, which is needed to try to secure federal funding.
Design South End light rail station. $9.7 million in next four years. The money “explores alignments” for a new light rail station in South End between the East/West and New Bern stations as well as a pedestrian crossing. It is “anticipated to be completed in partnership with a private developer.”
Build park-and-ride in Huntersville. $11.2 million in next two years. Would build a park and ride at Hambright Road and I-77 in Huntersville that “supports enhanced bus service.”
Transit security. $3.4 million in next five years. Would undertake projects that “promote safe, reliable and equitable transit service” through initiatives including replacing mobile video on existing vehicles, guard stations and along routes, as well as cameras on the Lynx Blue Line Extension.
Service vehicles for CATS. $2.2 million in next five years. Would pay for vehicles to respond to maintenance needs for bus, rail and special transportation services.
Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt, who chairs the City Council’s Transportation, Planning and Environment committee, tells Transit Time that she wishes the city had been able to put more money into transit and transportation, but that with the pandemic, it just wasn’t the appropriate time.
The smaller improvements, she says, “are always necessary, and they are things that can help to reduce our high traffic accident corridors. There are always things like that. At some point, you’ve got to make investments that are going to address the problem of traffic congestion and getting people around.”
She added: “We have to be willing to be bold about that, and so far, we’re just not there.” —TM
Pricey rideshares: Local Uber and Lyft passengers say they’re having to pay more for rides, as a shortage of drivers and a surge in demand is causing prices to go up. “Charged $35 today, average before was about $20,” a rideshare user named Paula told WCNC.
Bridge repairs finished: The stretch of I-77 by the Catawba River Bridge in South Carolina has fully reopened, ending what were long lines of traffic throughout much of May as workers conducted bridge repairs. (WBTV)
Greenway construction: Some avid greenway users have trouble dodging all the construction. Work on sections of the Cross Charlotte Trail by Archdale Park in south Charlotte and between 7th and 10th streets uptown is causing some runners and bikers to have to plan more. “I run about 50 miles a week, and I cycle about 200 miles a week,” said Connor Bollinger. “I’ve just become accustomed to figuring out what the perfect out and back is.” (Spectrum News)
Transit development: The Charlotte chapter of the Urban Land Institute is holding an online symposium today at 1:30 p.m. on “Equitable Transit Oriented Development.” The panel, “Equitable TOD: Building Equity as Part of Transit & TOD,” consists of the director of TOD for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA); the executive director of the Seattle Housing Development Consortium; a senior vice president of Bridge Housing in Seattle; and Mark Etheridge of Ascent Real Estate Capital. Details here.
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