The transit tax brought in roughly $70 million to Mecklenburg County last year, two-thirds of which went to buses. When the tax started in 1998, the Charlotte area had about 45 bus routes; now, 9 years later, it has roughly 75. Also, ridership is up almost 70 percent.
The other third of the transit tax goes for rail. Transit officials are using the money to build and run the south corridor light rail line and design two future lines, light rail to University City and a commuter rail to the Lake Norman area.
Meanwhile, as drivers sit in traffic, some hear $70 million and think it should go for roads, not mass transit.
"Yeah, our roads are horrible around here and, now we're trying to fix a road problem with a rail problem. Doesn't make any sense," said driver Shawn Gentry.
Obviously, Charlotte Area Transportation System CEO Ron Tober believes in mass transit. So Eyewitness News asked him to defend it against roads.
"Building new roads and more lanes on roads is not going to solve anything. That's been proven over and over again. What we need to do in a city like Charlotte -- that is growing rapidly and has a lot of new people coming into it -- is to invest in both roads and public transportation," he said.
But what would $70 million buy in roads? Eyewitness News asked state road officials what roads cost. They gave a general example -- with $70 million they can build 3-and-a-half miles of highway in an urban area.
Eyewitness News wanted more specific examples, so we went through state records to find projects on tap for the Charlotte area. Widening Providence Road from south of Interstate 485 to Union County would cost roughly $21 million dollars, widening Interstate 85 from Speedway Boulevard in Cabarrus County to Highway 73 would cost about $192 million, and widening Interstate 77 from Highway 73 in Mecklenburg County to U.S. 21 in Iredell County would cost $355 million.
But Tuesday's vote is just about mass transit -- buses and light rail. It has nothing to do with roads.
So if voters repeal the tax, there's no guarantee you'll see more money go for roads. You could just see less mass transit, and with the tax expected to net $74 million this year, that's an important decision all by itself
If voters repeal the tax, Mecklenburg County leaders could try to create a new tax for roads instead of mass transit, experts said it's very unlikely the state will allow the county to do that.
One lawmaker said the state controls sales tax and doesn't like handing that power over to counties.