North Carolina Republican House Speaker Tim Moore on Monday dismissed Charlotte’s proposed $13.5 billion transportation plan, saying it would spend too much money on things like rail transit, buses and bike lanes.
Moore said for him to support the plan, “it needs to be focused on road capacity.”
Moore’s comments are a setback for the city. Charlotte needs the General Assembly to allow it to place a one-cent sales tax increase on the ballot for a referendum. Without the sales tax increase, the transportation plan would likely be dead – or would have to be scaled back dramatically.
Moore made the comments to the media after a forum at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance with state Senate President Phil Berger.
Moore, who is from Kings Mountain, spoke at great length about why he thought Charlotte’s plan is not practical. A majority of the plan would pay for the Silver Line light rail, which would run from Matthews through uptown and past Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
The plan would also include money to expand the bus system, and build more sidewalks, greenways, and bike lanes. The plan also includes some money for more roads and more road capacity, but the city has said 80% of the funds would go towards mass transit.
“I think we really need to be looking at road construction,” Moore said. “If you get out and you drive anywhere and 95% of people are driving a car, they are not riding a bike. They are not riding a bus. I think bus ridership after COVID is at abysmally low levels.”
Nationwide, transit ridership has struggled to bounce back from the pandemic and is about 65 percent of 2019 levels. The Charlotte Area Transit System has struggled more than most, with ridership only at 50% of pre-pandemic levels.
CATS’ local bus ridership is down roughly 75% from its peak in 2013.
Moore questioned the need for bike lanes multiple times. The lanes would only be a fraction of the entire plan.
“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. “(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 with comments that form a pointed contrast to Charlotte officials’ focus on bicycle lanes, greenways, sidewalks and reducing automobile dependency. His vision for Charlotte’s transportation plan is almost completely at odds with that of the city. Charlotte has set a goal of getting people to take half of all trips in something besides a car by 2040.
Moore dismissed that kind of transformational aspiration.
“At the end of the day, when it comes to transportation funding, it has to be responsive to what the needs are,” said Moore. “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.”
Berger was also asked about the transportation plan.
He said that he hasn’t seen a formal proposal from the city and declined to comment on whether the Senate could support a tax increase.
“I look forward to hearing directly from Charlotte to what that proposal is,” Berger said.
He said we will have to have “very pointed conversations” with his members about whether they would support that.
The group Sustain Charlotte criticized Moore’s comments.
“We also need major investment in rail and bus service,” said the group’s founder, Shannon Binns. “These are the most efficient ways to move people in fast-growing metros like ours. Wider roads mean more cars, and that means more traffic and congestion.”
Binns added that you can never widen roads enough because “they will just fill up with more cars.”
He said cities that have “tried to widen their way out of congestion” have “abandoned that approach in favor of transit.”
Sustain Charlotte also noted the recent death of a Charlotte cyclist, who was killed by a car in Plaza Midwood while riding. The bicyclist was crossing The Plaza at Hamorton Place when she was struck by a Honda Insight.
The Business Alliance supports the transit plan, but no one asked Berger or Moore about the it during the forum. Reporters asked about the transit plan after the event.
Charlotte City Council member Ed Driggs, who chairs the transportation committee, attended the event. But he wasn’t there for the news conference.
Driggs said the city needs to reach out to neighboring cities and counties to see if they would like to partner with Charlotte on a regional transportation plan.
“I’m not too worried about it yet,” Driggs said when told about Moore’s comments.
He said the city’s goal is to place a referendum on the November ballot.
The legislature and voters approved a half-cent sales tax in the late 1990s for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. That money expanded the bus system and allowed the city to build the Lynx Blue Line light rail. The half-cent sales tax still funds most of CATS’ operations.