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Why Lake Norman should support a transportation sale tax

GUEST OPINION. Last week Lake Norman Chamber CEO Bill Russell explained why the chamber is opposed to the proposed sales tax increase for transit in Mecklenburg County. Olee Joel Olsen, a business owner and member of the chamber, disagrees. Here’s why.

Feb. 8. By Olee Joel Olsen. As the Lake Norman region grows, our traffic slows. Everyone knows we can not build enough roads to solve the problem. Atlanta tried this but found out too late that it just doesn’t work.

Before moving to Cornelius, I worked abroad for almost two decades spending up to 150 days a year on business trips to various cities across Europe and Asia. I quickly learned that cities which had invested in their transportation infrastructure not only had less traffic and faster commutes but these cities also attracted more companies, more jobs, and more business.

A good example of the impact investments in public transportation can make is the experience of flying into London before 1998. It could take two hours by taxi to travel from the Heathrow airport to London. After the Heathrow Express rail line was built at great expense, it took less than 20 minutes to get from the airport to downtown London.

While some may believe that light rail, expanded bus routes, bike lanes, and greenways are a waste of taxpayer money, cities at home and abroad that have invested in an efficient transportation infrastructure allow regions to grow while minimizing congestion, pollution, and lower productivity Companies are seeking to locate and expand in regions that offer their employees and their customers access to modern public transportation.

It will get worse without an investment

Although we are fortunate to have one of the busiest airports in the country, there is no public transportation that directly connects to the Lake Norman area, or even uptown Charlotte. The Blue Line has been a smashing success in attracting private investment up and down the corridor, but the bus network, greenways, bike lanes and pedestrian networks connecting our region and everywhere in between are still sorely lacking. Without an investment in our transportation infrastructure, it will only get worse.

What will it cost? Much less than the long term benefits it will bring our entire region. There is now a proposed county wide referendum in November to raise the funds for a mobility investment using a one cent sales tax.

This would allow Mecklenburg County to not only invest in the Silver Line which will create an “Airport Express Line,” but will also provide the funds to expand rapid bus service across the entire county, build and extend greenways, expand bicycle lanes, and improve pedestrian safety.

Bus improvements for LKN

The plan includes building a Rapid Bus transit line along I-77 with 4 new park & ride station in North Mecklenburg and continuing to seek solutions that would eventually connect North Mecklenburg to the light rail system.

We who live in the Lake Norman area have a chance to participate and maximize the benefit from this investment. An investment in our transportation infrastructure will help connect our businesses, parks, restaurants, and entertainment venues through more greenways, bikes lanes and sidewalks as well as expanded bus routes.

Choices reap benefits

A community that offers transportation choices is a safer place for children, a more convenient place for aging parents that want to stay in their homes, and a more prosperous place to attract customers and employees.

Why Now? There has never been a greater opportunity to receive matching federal funding to leverage the local funding that needs to be raised.

It’s time to work for the future instead of against it. We can do this, but only if we all work together and we take this opportunity now.

—Olee Joel Olsen

Olsen is a Cornelius business owner and member of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce