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Republican lawmakers, governor would make appointments to new Charlotte transit authority, bill says

A Charlotte Area Transit System bus drives by uptown.
Michael LoBiondo/City of Charlotte
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The city of Charlotte wants to shift the Charlotte Area Transit System to a new transit authority.

Republican lawmakers and the governor would appoint board members to help make decisions on managing Charlotte’s buses, light rail and streetcar, according to a draft of a bill that would create a new transit authority in Mecklenburg County.

The authority would replace the Charlotte Area Transit System, which is a city of Charlotte department. That’s seen as the first step before asking Mecklenburg voters to approve a one-cent sales tax increase to fund a multi-billion dollar transportation plan.

The 24-page draft bill is being crafted by a small group, including former real estate executive Ned Curran, attorney Walter Price of Moore and Van Allen and Charlotte attorney Larry Shaheen.

They are working with the managers of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the six county towns.

The draft bill hasn’t been shared with Charlotte City Council members. City of Charlotte officials also haven't discussed it publicly.

WFAE obtained it through a public records request.

The draft bill codifies how the new sales tax money would be spent.

Forty percent of the new revenue would be spent on roads, which has been previously reported. The rest of the money would go to the new transit authority, but there would be a limit on how much of that money could be spent on rail transit.

Under the bill, no more than two-thirds of that money could go to trains.

That rail cap means there won’t be enough money to build all of the planned rail lines. The city has told Matthews that it can’t build the planned Silver Line light rail from uptown to Matthews, and will instead build a special bus lane instead.

The Red Line commuter trail to Lake Norman would remain, and is specifically mentioned in the draft bill.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger have said Charlotte’s plan must be focused on roads to get approval from Republican lawmakers.

Who would run it?

The bill also describes who would be on the authority’s new board.

The city of Charlotte would get 10 appointments, with two being made in consultation with the Charlotte Business Alliance. Mecklenburg County would get nine appointments, with two also with input from the alliance.

The state House speaker and Senate leader would each get one appointment and the governor would get a pick.

Curran said in an interview this week that has changed.

In response to concerns from the Mecklenburg towns, there will be specific board seats set aside for them. He described the early language as a “placeholder.”

Matthews Mayor John Higdon said it’s critical that Matthews and the other towns have designated seats. He is already upset that the Silver Line won’t be built to his town and has said he will recommend Matthews residents vote against the sales tax increase.

Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari said in an interview he’s upset that much of the bill has been written without more consultation from City Council members. He said Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones told him that the details of who would be on the transit authority's governing board would be worked out later.

He said the city’s transportation plan has been stalled because of “opaque, bad faith maneuvers like this, where a couple of people in a back room decide what’s going to happen.”

Not shared with state lawmakers yet

The city of Charlotte said in a statement that the “draft language has not yet been shared with legislators but reflects guidance based on their public comments.”

Curran said he hopes to have a final version of the bill ready by the fall. State lawmakers are expected to return to Raleigh in November after the election. The city hopes to have a referendum on the sales tax in November 2025.

The bill also gives detailed information on how the road money could be spent.

It says that could include money for bike lanes, street lighting and electric vehicle charging stations. And at the request of Bokhari — who is a futurist — the city could also spend that money on magnetic levitation and a hyperloop, which is technology championed by Elon Musk.

It’s been called an “ultra-high-speed public transportation system in which passengers travel in autonomous electric pods at more than 600 miles an hour.”

Most large U.S. cities have authorities to run their transit systems. That’s in part because they stretch over several counties, and the authority is seen as the best way to create a new regional governing model.

The proposed Charlotte transit authority would only cover Mecklenburg County. But Curran said if other counties want to join it in the future, they could be added by lawmakers.

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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.