Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Huntersville pulls plug on Lake Norman Transportation Commission. Is it time for a change at LNTC?

The full effect of last November's election in Huntersville is beginning to take shape.

Monday night, Huntersville's Board of Commissioners voted 4-2 to withdraw from the Lake Norman Transportation Commission (LNTC).  That's the body formed by the four area towns to provide a uniform front for the region's transportation issues.

Town LNTC rep  Commissioner Melinda Bales and Commissioner Charles Guinard vote "no".

The implications of this could be significant.  As the largest member of the group by the population it represents, Huntersville's withdrawal puts a big dent in the body's reason for existence.  It will also take with it roughly $25,000 in annual funding - putting a big dent in the body's funding.  See this article  for details on what each town pays.

Current LNTC director, Bill Thunberg, had this to say about the news.

"While I am disappointed in Huntersville's decision, it is my intention to represent fully all members of the LNTC while the LNTC considers its options.  There is value in regional collaboration and the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission remains committed to regional collaboration on issues around transportation and land use in the Lake Norman area."

The problem is that it's really, really hard to see that value.  On the two biggest transportation issues facing the LKN area in recent years (the Red Line Regional Rail project, and the I77 HOT lanes) the LNTC has been an utter failure.

The Red Line is stalled because nobody got permission from Norfolk Southern to use their tracks before proceeding to plan the project, and the LNTC sat on its hands regarding the HOT lanes for nearly two years while opposition mounted.  If anything, the LNTC was a supporter of the concept of HOT lanes.  Mr Thunberg was regularly brought in to speak to its member Boards and chat up the idea.

In hindsight, the LNTC has acted more as a rubber stamp for these large scale projects driven by Charlotte and NCDOT rather than the local advocacy body as was intended.

With the body now at a crossroads it's time to ask the question if it's leadership can meet the challenges.  Instead of a rubber stamp, it needs to be a body willing to fight tooth and nail for what the region needs.  To do that may also require a leadership change at the helm of LNTC.

Someone who's willingness to fight for the area is beyond question would be Kurt Naas, founder of WidenI77.org.

When asked the hypothetical question if he'd be interested in the job, Naas had this to say on Tuesday.

"The LNTC has always been a good idea in concept but unfortunately disappointing in execution. I hope there will be another formal mechanism advocating for regional transportation.

As far as the Exec Director, yes, I would be interested. Over the past few years I've developed a grasp of transportation issues and policies, and as a private citizen led the region's largest grass roots advocacy effort in recent memory. I started with basically zero political support (and a few cases of open opposition by some very powerful people) yet still managed to change the position of every LKN town."

Having someone like Naas in the LNTC Executive Director spot is of course a hypothetical question since there currently isn't a job opening at LNTC.  However, for people aching to have a government willing to fight for the public interest rather than those of bureaucrats, it is something interesting to consider.

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