Perdue’s Charlotte highway blues: Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t

An aerial photograph showing the construction of the new I-85 bridge over the Yadkin River at the Davidson County and Rowan County lines. Credit: N.C. DOT, via Flickr.

The Charlotte Observer published a short piece on Gov. Bev Perdue’s and state transportation official’s press conference yesterday on recently-begun highway construction projects in and around the Charlotte-metro area. In particular, the governor focused on the widening of I-85 through Cabarrus County, the construction of northern junction of I-85 and I-485 and the completion of the final 5.7-mile leg of I-485 in northeast Charlotte.

The Charlotte-metro aren’t the only current interstate projects that will benefit the growing Queen City. A bit farther up I-85 and north of the already-widened portion in Rowan County, work crews are busy building a new bridge and roadway to both replace the decrepit Yadkin River bridge and widen the interstate. 

Once completed, the combined projects will result in a nearly-complete, widened I-85 from the South Carolina border, through Charlotte and Greensboro and well past Durham. As a regular traveler between Charlotte and the Triad and Triangle myself, I know I’ll be pleased when the projects are done. Connecting the state’s two largest cities — one, its commercial hub, and the other, its capital — with a modern, updated freeway will be a boon; interstate travel in North Carolina, whether personal or commercial, will be better than it ever has been. Further, I-85 holds more important value to this state, connecting it with other southern cities like Atlanta and Richmond, and, ultimately, to the nation’s capital as well.

From The Charlotte Observer‘s Celeste Smith:

Perdue said she directed transportation officials “to take the politics out of it,” and “use the data to decide where we have to invest” in road work.

“For a long time, we’ve had conversations about road projects that we need to expedite in North Carolina,” said Perdue, speaking from the Concord field office of Lane Construction, contractor for the I-85 widening.

“North Carolina had to make long-term investments in our infrastructure in order to grow. … Highways and bridges are the circulation system that keeps commerce pumping throughout the state.”

Two quick observations:

  • It’s nearly impossible “to take the politics out of” this state’s highway and transportation funding. It’s always politics and always will be. No, not because of any legislative prerogatives nor because the governor appoints members to the transportation board. Simply put, North Carolina is too large with too many competing regional interests and longtime regional disunity (East v. East, Charlotte v. Raleigh, etc.) and disagreements will always abound no matter the circumstance.
  • I don’t have the benefit of having Perdue’s full comments at the press conference, but the quote provided by The Charlotte Observer doesn’t do this whole Charlotte v. Raleigh highway battle justice. Perdue simply skips past it all with the usually ambiguous politics-speak. These “road projects” that “we need to expedite” “for a long time” are primarily road projects in and around Charlotte. While much smaller cities and metropolitan areas in the state were getting highway upgrades, Charlotte sat nearly ignored. In that, the bitterness lies.

The comment sections on this Charlotte Observer article are full of the normal bitter, backbiting comments every regular reader has come to know. But, at the crux of that bitterness is the longtime neglect Charlotte has seemed to have gotten from Raleigh (“Raleigh” in this case is “state government”).

A perfect, more intelligent-sounding example from “missmimsey” in the comment threads:

Bev, I give you some credit. For the last 3 years, you’ve shown up around here with good news more than the 2 previous Democratic governors (Hunt, Easley) did in their combined 16 years in office.

But everyone knows you’re playing a desperate game of catch-up and everyone knows why this is so: because the eastern part of the state has raped Charlotte for a generation. Many will remember Marc Basnight talking about Raleigh’s “needs” as though he actually represented Raleigh instead of the Outer Banks. That’s just one small example. The so-called equity formula for road building is a more glaring and offensive example. Charlotte has strangled on traffic so that a few flatlanders could breeze through those throbbing metropoli of Tarboro and Williamston on their way to the…Lone Cedar Cafe.

So, Bev, you have a tough row to hoe, made difficult for you by your predecessors and an eastern NC cabal that ranks among the worst of governing cliques in the state’s history. Like many Democrats in this area, I share your basic Democratic values but I am disgusted and appalled by the criminality and gummint cabal that has become the sorry hallmark of the Democratic party in North Carolina.

Good luck in November; you’ll need it.

I wonder how much we’ll see of you in Charlotte should you win a second term?

But don’t think this bitterness is relegated to online and anonymous commenting. What “missmimsey” discusses isn’t so different from the average conversation you can hear at coffee shops, restaurants, bars, churches and elsewhere throughout the Queen City.

Do Charlotteans have a valid reason for all this nastiness? Perhaps. They’ve waited an awfully long time for some of these promised construction projects to get underway. But, now that they are, why all the continued complaining? Charlotte is getting its due, but Perdue somehow still remains to blame though she is helping to make steps to correct past oversights?

See, it truly is damned if you, damned if you don’t. And, that’s a shame, considering Perdue’s more than ambitious dedication and commitment to the Charlotte area. She made promises that she’s now keeping, so why all the hubbub? Why threaten her reelection when she’s actually doing what she promised? How does that make sense?

It kind of leaves you wondering: What exactly do Charlotteans want anyhow?

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