By Kurt Naas
For years now, the transportation needs of the Lake Norman area have been a funding afterthought. The genesis of this problem is the organization that sets regional transportation priorities, the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Organization (MUMPO). With Charlotte casting 41 percent of the vote, and that vote held by a single person, MUMPO is a de facto dictatorship.
As evidence, they ranked widening I-77 through Lake Norman at #92. Meanwhile, when Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx needed his streetcar project to appear in a transportation plan, MUMPO quickly amended theirs and ranked it at #3.
Local leaders advocating I-77 toll lanes have consistently pointed to MUMPO’s Charlotte-centric nature as a reason why Lake Norman commuters should pay tolls for 50 years. But they could have changed MUMPO for the better.
As a result of the 2010 Census, the federal government dictated MUMPO expand to include parts of Iredell and other surrounding counties. MUMPO was forced to modify the voting structure and three-quarters of the towns had to ratify it.
The Lake Norman towns were presented with a once-in-a-decade opportunity to dent the Charlotte monopoly. Such an effort would take inter-town coordination, but it was absolutely in our grasp to do so: the Lake Norman area, with six towns plus Iredell, had enough voting entities to void ratification if need be. But they had to act together.
A task like this falls in the purview of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, an organization designed to pool our interests as a region. But as the weeks turned into months, the LNTC was silent on the topic. In fact, except for organizing consultants to pitch toll lanes, they’ve been silent, period.
So, acting independently, and no doubt cowed by the thought of “losing a seat at the table,” the town boards ratified the new entity. Davidson voted unanimously weeks ago. Cornelius and Huntersville voted in favor last week, with Gilroy (Cornelius) and Phillips (Huntersville) in dissent.
The result is a disaster for Lake Norman.
In the expanded organization, Charlotte’s voting share actually increased to 46 percent. If Charlotte votes for something, 24 of the remaining 26 members must vote against to override Charlotte, an electoral impossibility.
Adding insult to injury, under the new system, the towns will pay more to subsidize a stronger Charlotte hegemony. The new budget is based not on need, but on “maximizing the federal match.”
Once MUMPO figured out how much they could squeeze out of the feds, they calculated the towns’ share. The result: Cornelius dues more than doubled to $8,000/year for 3 percent of vote. Huntersville will pay $15,000 that for the same 3 percent. And Davidson will fork over $3,600 every year for a 1.5 percent share.
Our next chance to fix this mess won’t happen until after 2020. Perhaps we will have better leadership then. A good start would be some housecleaning this November.
Kurt Naas is a member of WidenI77.org, a group that has advocated against adding toll lanes to the Lake Norman portion of Interstate 77.
INFOBOX: Online extra
Go to www.huntersvilleherald.com for a guest editorial from Del Arrendale, chairman of the Cornelius Parks, Arts Recreation and Culture Board, on the topic of high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 77.