Charlotte Mayor McCrory talks rail system at transit forum

11/03/09 Concetta DeLuco
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On Monday, Charlotte, NC Mayor Pat McCrory spoke at the 2009 Regional Transportation Forum in Brandon. He shared his city’s success with the improved transportation system he achieved during his tenure, and encouraged Tampa Bay leaders and residents to push for the same.

During McCrory’s 14 year tenure as Mayor, he championed a sales tax referendum that funded the city’s transit system. At the transit forum in Brandon, McCrory drew a positive reaction from the audience of over 300 people.

Charlotte wasn’t always a city with a light rail system. But now, McCrory says Charlotte has become a model for cities across the nation.

The transit forum was organized by the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional group, along with seven surrounding counties. It was formed by the state legislature in 2007 to develop and implement transit system changes in Tampa, similar to Charlotte’s. On Wednesday, the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners will debate whether to place a 1-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot for the November 2010 elections. County Commissioner Mark Sharpe has been an advocate for the tax. He said local funding is the first step toward receiving federal funding for the project.

Pat McCrory said getting local funding was the biggest problem he faced when began work on the transit system in Charlotte over a decade ago. He finally got a half-cent sales tax put on the ballot and voted on by the people. McCrory said considering a ballot referendum puts Tampa ahead of a lot of cities, but the Bay area still has competition from regions, like Charlotte.

McCrory said local funding is one of the key weapons to compete for federal funding.

The one-cent sales tax referendum has been an issue that has been bouncing around with the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners, but ballot language for the tax has yet to be defined. And it doesn’t look like that will happen on Wednesday, either.

According to the St. Pete Times, the one-cent increase to the county’s present 7 cent sales tax is expected to generate about 200 million a year. Commissioner Sharpe said that if the referendum passes, twenty-five percent of that revenue will go toward road service and seventy-five percent of the funds will go toward doubling the bus service and instituting two light rail systems.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said these particular improvements are expected to take place over the next 5 to 7 years, but the overall transit makeover is a process that will continue to grow and change over time.

Improved transportation gives people choices, Mayor Iorio said, and it is these choices that draws business and investors to the area; and leads to overall economic improvement.

Regardless of what the future holds for the referendum that is up for discussion Wednesday, Sharpe said money will still be spent on improving the transit in Tampa.

Mayor Pat McCrory warned leaders that the journey will not be easy, and problems are guaranteed, but the push for it now will be worth it in the long run. The Board Of County Commissioners meeting will begin at 9am, Wednesday at the County Center in Tampa and is open to the public.

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