Kudos to the NC DOT for expanding public transportation into rural areas


This is what planning for the future looks like:

One of the fastest growing states in the nation, North Carolina is expected to see its population rise to more than 12.5 million people by 2040 – a 32 percent increase from the state's 2010 population. That's why it is crucial that North Carolina's public transportation systems keep up with the changing population and connect residents in urban and rural areas to opportunities and services such as jobs, higher education, healthcare and recreation.

Partnerships between the N.C. Department of Transportation and local governments, regional authorities and other state agencies have been the source of North Carolina's transit success. Currently under development, the Public Transportation Statewide Strategic Plan will build upon that success by creating the foundation for reinvigorated state and local transit partnerships.

Just a quick note on the image above: I took that shot on the opening day of our Link Transit service here in Alamance County in June of 2016. While it does not reach into rural areas as much as I'd like to see, it has provided access to many of our citizens to our hospital and various clinics, our community college (main and satellite campuses), and of course grocery stores not within walking distance. I'm posting this as a sort of "counterpoint" piece, since Art Pope's minions have already pounced on this new plan as a waste of money. After having to argue that issue several times in-person or in meetings, I wrote this Op-Ed last year as an across-the-board rebuttal:

Last summer Alamance County embarked on a grand experiment, one that was a long time coming. It’s been decades since the people have had a viable public transportation system here, and a big reason for that delay has been a lack of interest on the part of the majority of the county’s residents to subsidize something they don’t personally need. I don’t doubt many still feel that way, which is part of the reason I’m writing this. A true community is not composed of merely the wealthy or even the comfortable middle class. It is everybody — and that includes the least fortunate among us.

The recent recession has not left our county unscathed. Just under 19 percent of our population is at poverty level or below. That’s some 28,000 people who are struggling to provide their families with the basic necessities of life.

There are no easy fixes for this problem. But we can (and should) work together to remove barriers to economic mobility, and physical mobility is one of the largest barriers that 19 percent must face. In the absence of reliable transportation, job opportunities, supplemental education and even something as simple as running to the grocery store are out of reach for many of these folks.

On the automobile front, the costs of maintaining a vehicle have gone up. DMV registration fees have jumped about 30 percent, and now the North Carolina sales tax is being applied to auto repairs. That is no problem if you can afford a new vehicle that is still under warranty and running like a top. But if you’re forced to nurse a 20- to 30-year-old clunker along, that tax is going to hit you left and right. The word you’re trying to remember is “regressive,” meaning the tax hurts most the people who can least afford it.

Folks, it is critical that people support this initiative by the NC DOT, because it's not only a top-down state effort, it requires partnering and cooperation with local governments both large and small. Here in our county, one municipality crossed its arms and decided it wouldn't take part in the plan. And that seriously jeopardized the connection to the main campus of Alamance Community College. We were able to swing that with the help of the county commissioners, but now there is grumbling from many about why they should pay when this one municipality doesn't have to.

Inter-connectivity of public transportation is a complicated process, and any missing links can throw the whole thing into disarray. Which is exactly what naysayers like Civitas would love to see.