City ponders role of autonomous vehicles for transit future

City ponders role of autonomous vehicles for transit future

CHARLOTTE — Construction of Centene headquarters continues in University Research Park. The health insurance giant’s East Coast headquarters is the largest job creation project in the history of North Carolina, officials say. The project is estimated to bring up to 6,000 new jobs.

“They want to get people to work here faster than we’ve done before,” Assistant City Manager Tracy Dodson said.

With those new workers expected, leaders are preparing for how they will move around.

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Centene has a bold plan. The company wants to partner with the city to create mobility hubs. The hubs would feature autonomous shuttles that transport between their campus, other employers and the light rail. Renderings of the hubs were introduced at the Charlotte City Council’s retreat Tuesday. No timeline for the project was announced. The city hopes to partner with Centene on several infrastructure projects.

“I think what we have with Centene is a corporation that is willing to be a leader in this,” Dodson said. “Our hope is other employers come along with this.”

As the council explores a possible sales tax increase for transit, leaders are weighing how much they should invest in future transportation modes like autonomous vehicles and aerial taxis, versus legacy modes like rail.

“If $8 (billion) to $12 billion is the largest bet in the city’s history, there is not enough money to be all-in on a fixed rail approach and all in on autonomous vehicles, roads and even the skies are where this stuff is going in the future,” Councilman Tariq Bokhari said.

But some leaders are warning not to be too “pie in the sky” because people are struggling to get around now.

“While this is a great mobility plan for the future, we are already overcrowded,” Councilwoman Renee Johnson said during a presentation by autonomous vehicle and future transit mode experts. “Our streets are overcrowded. We have to lead for tomorrow but manage for today.”

City debates 1 cent sales tax hike to fund transit improvements

City debates 1 cent sales tax hike to fund transit improvements

The Charlotte City Council is debating whether to raise the sales tax by one cent to pay for transit improvements.

Government reporter Joe Bruno has followed every development since it was proposed in November.

The city of Charlotte has an ambitious goal to make massive transit improvements, which includes expanding the light rail system. The price tag for that could be between $8 billion and $12 billion.

The project is moving forward, but the city is facing some resistance.

The mayors of three Lake Norman towns, Huntersville, Davidson and Cornelius, sent a letter that read they are concerned about a sales tax increase, because their area is not getting any significant projects beyond bus service.

Leaders are considering asking voters to approve a one-cent sales tax hike. There are numerous roadblocks though. The city needs approval from the state, and for the county to put the measure on the ballot.

City officials will start contacting neighboring and statewide leaders to see they can get on the same page.

“We know where there is resistance and we know why,” Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said. “If this is a point where we are going to make this a regional transit plan, we have to sit at a table and say, ‘here is what we want.’”

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Some council members are skeptical of the timeline and said there needs to be more community engagement.

The council held public comment last week and will hold additional votes in the coming months.

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