CHARLOTTE, NC — From the front porch of Eleanor Ervin's home in the Oaklawn Park neighborhood of Charlotte, you can constantly see and hear traffic on Interstate 77.
"Day and night. You can be in the room and you hear something go 'screeeeech,'" Ervin said.
In the 40 years she's lived just outside of Uptown Charlotte, she has seen the city grow. "I never thought Charlotte would be this big," she said.
Charlotte's growth is no secret to anyone. But how much the entire region is expected to grow may surprise you.
"[It] could be quite an issue for us," said Michelle Nance is the Planning Director with Centralina Council of Governments. CCOG is a regional organization that has studied the projected growth and how to get ahead of it.
Experts say transportation has to be the first priority. “If we do not address the transportation issues in this region, it will really cripple us,” Nance said. “It will cripple our ability to move people and goods throughout and within the region. That will impact the quality of life that we’ve all come to enjoy and will prevent businesses from wanting to move here.”"
Nance told Channel 9 that plans cannot focus only on highways. Studies show the region is ready for a transit plan between counties, like rail systems in other big cities. "Development is happening every day, and the longer we wait the more expensive those transportation projects become," Nance said.
One of the biggest challenges may be getting all the players involved to agree on one long-range plan; because solutions for this much growth, can't be made by one city or county. "Issues like transportation, housing and job growth really happen on a regional basis," Nance said.
Making regional decisions, while keeping the character of dozens of individual communities, will also be a challenge according to Jeff Michael, Director of UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute.
"I think some planners, and probably many citizens, feel that our efforts to deal with the growth is a little too little, too late."
To ease growing pains, Michael says leaders should look to the past, but be innovative with the future. "If we feel that that infrastructure is not adequate today, it's because of decisions we made 10, 20, even 30 years ago. So, the question for it is what can we do to mitigate the impacts of that growth today, while at the same time looking ahead 10, 20, 30 years from now so that we’re not making the same mistakes perhaps we made in the past."
But decision-makers now do not have the luxury of waiting another decade to plan for hundreds of thousands more people. The growth is happening now and doesn't show signs of slowing down.
"I felt like we would grow, but I didn't think we'd grow at this pace," Ervin said.
There are several positives to this extremely fast growth. Experts say the region is in a good position to attract jobs and retain businesses, as well as acquire more resources for residents.
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