CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Charlotte Thursday to promote President Biden's bipartisan infrastructure law and how it will benefit the Carolinas.
Under the law, North Carolina will receive $7.2 billion to fix roads and highways statewide. Over 3,000 miles of highway, and 1,500 bridges, are considered to be in "poor" condition by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. North Carolina is also set to receive more than $450 million to help replace or repair bridges.
During her public comments, Harris commended the work being done in the Queen City, but said Charlotte is a city deserving of greater public transportation.
"Here's the bottom line," Harris said. "World-class cities like Charlotte deserve world-class transit systems."
Harris said it isn't just Charlotte that has room to grow -- cities across the country are in need of improvement when it comes to public transportation.
"In states all across our nation, public transit is not as fast, or as frequent, it is not as safe or as healthy as it can be," Harris said. "Across our country, our transportation is not as healthy, or reliable or safe as it should be."
Harris and Buttigieg toured Charlotte's transportation center in South End, which is known as the Charlotte Gateway Station. The center was approved to receive a $15 million grant a few weeks ago to create an underground bus concourse to connect various public transit services.
"Public transit makes life better for people," Buttigieg said.
Transit riders like Juanita Denwood say these services are what many depend on.
“My whole life is about bus life -- this is my only source of transportation," Denwood said.
While CATS continues work to develop an extended rail service that would connect areas of Huntersville, Davidson, Cornelius and more to Uptown Charlotte, they are also plans for a bus rapid transit too in the more near future.
“We want to make sure we are providing efficient and effective mobility options to citizens today, so our bus rapid transit along the I-77 corridor utilizing the express lanes will help us meet those goals," John Lewis, CATS CEO said.
The City of Charlotte is rolling out new electric buses, slowly retiring older models that aren't environmentally friendly. The federal government says it would like to see more cities leading the way like Charlotte, but said more needs to be done.
"We have communities like Charlotte, that are innovating, thinking about the future -- putting their money where their mouth is," Buttigieg said. "But they haven't had the support that they deserve from Washington."
Charlotte could benefit from the federal help, especially for an expensive $13.5 billion transformational mobility network including a possible Red Line traveling to northern towns in the area.
The network would be funded, in part, by a one-cent sales tax increase, if Charlotte City Council can get state lawmakers to approve the raise and if voters approve it on a ballot.
However, Norfolk Southern has long derailed original plans, not willing to share their tracks. Buttigieg told WCNC Charlotte's Hunter Sáenz in a one-on-one interview that he's willing to step in.
"My department is ready to convene the players and do anything we can to help that work," he said. "Because a good rail system is one that can move goods of course, but also people."
It doesn't stop at public transportation, though. The federal government is hoping more people will make the switch to electric cars to make an impact on the personal level, too.
The U.S. Department of Transportation said, as of 2020, only 2.3% of new car sales were for electric cars. Government officials hope to see that number grow, and in an effort to make it happen, the federal government is giving $109 million as part of the infrastructure law to build more vehicle charging stations across North Carolina.
Buttigieg spoke with WCNC Charlotte's Hunter Sáenz about important steps that would need to be taken to increase purchases of electric cars. For one, these cars need to be more affordable.
"If you have an electric vehicle, you benefit from the fuel savings but that doesn't do you any good unless you can afford them in the first place," Buttigieg said. "That's why the Build Back Better law calls for a major tax credit to reduce that price."
Congresswoman Alma Adams, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Vy Lyles joined Harris and Buttigieg during their visit.
"We are experiencing the need for infrastructure," Charlotte Mayor Vy Lyles said before Harris took the stage. “In Charlotte, we’re doing the hard work."
Harris gave public comments around noon, promoting the infrastructure plan and what it means for the Carolinas. During those comments, Harris discussed how the law will create jobs in the Carolinas and Charlotte, as well as improvements to the water system and increased high-speed internet access in rural areas.
Improvements to roughly 3,000 miles of highway, and 1,500 bridges in poor condition could also see delays, according to Ely Portillo with UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute. Portillo said with rising material costs and labor shortages, leaders need to figure out how they will make the rubber meet the road.
Job training will also be crucial as the nation and our city plan create an infrastructure for the future.
Harris and Buttigieg landed around 11 a.m. at Charlotte Douglas International Airport before heading to the site.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department prepared for significant traffic impact due to the visit, and officials encouraged everyone to use public transportation when possible. Drivers were encouraged to avoid South Boulevard between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and some flights were slightly delayed at Charlotte Douglas International Airport due to Harris' travel.
Flashpoint is a weekly in-depth look at politics in Charlotte, North Carolina, South Carolina, and beyond with host Ben Thompson. Listen to the podcast weekly.
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