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Charlotte city officials pushing $13-billion transit plan amid CATS 'crisis'

On Flashpoint, leaders argue city must focus on 'both.'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Amid calls for an independent investigation into safety concerns within Charlotte Area Transit System, transit advocates say the city's $13-billion transit plan must move forward.

"We have to do both," Mecklenburg County Commissioner Leigh Altman, who also sits on the Metropolitan Transit Commission, said on this week's Flashpoint.

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"If we don't find a way to ensure that CATS is a high-functioning, high-quality organization and go forward with these plans, we will lose billions of dollars in federal money," Altman said.

Last week, the interim CATS C.E.O. outlined three derailments in the last year that were previously not disclosed to local leaders. Additionally, at Wednesday night's meeting, MTC members learned that CATS bridge inspections didn't happen in 2021, meaning inspections are two years past due. The last time they were inspected was in 2019. 

Altman shared her disappointment in an email shared with regional leaders on Monday. 

"We have a transit system that's in crisis, and has failed us over and over again," Altman said.  "We can only deal with it with a lot of sunshine and a lot of accountability. That is how we build back public trust."

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This week, other elected leaders expressed support for moving forward with the transit plan while also investigating CATS.

"There are many problems w/ @CATSRideTransit including a legacy of poor executive [management]. These facts shouldn't deprioritize the need to develop comprehensive regional public transportation options. Though our challenges are vast, the impact of a great system will be extraordinary," Braxton Winston, Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem, tweeted. 

RELATED: MTC votes to ask Charlotte City Council to hire consultant to investigate CATS rail operations, maintenance procedures

The city's $13.5 billion transportation plan relies on a one-cent sales tax referendum, which first requires approval of the republican-led General Assembly in Raleigh.  State lawmakers have expressed skepticism over the plan.  It includes 110 miles of rapid transit corridors like the light rail, 140 miles of bussing, 115 miles of a greenway system, 75 miles of a bicycle network, and more. 

"We can't abandon that," Altman said.

The MTC has asked Charlotte City Council to hire an independent investigator to review problems within the transit agency.


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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