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Speech by Pat McCrory, Mayor of the City of Charlotte

02/04/04 by Staff Writer


Charlotte Interstate


Presented February 4, 2004, as the first presentation in the Clean Air Lecture Series at the Catawba College Center for the Environment

I graduated on this stage 26 years ago, and the graduation speaker in 1978 was Elizabeth Hanford. It’s quite remarkable that this weekend I spent the Super Bowl with Elizabeth in Houston, Texas. I also want to say that two or three years ago I was extremely honored to be the graduation speaker and received my honorary degree at Catawba College, and it’s one of the great highlights of my life.

I might add that after that speech, I came off the stage and Dr. Silverburg, who was my political science professor, came up to me and he said, “Pat, that was a great speech.” And I said, “Call me doctor.” And he said, “I remember your grades.” And I said, “Call me Pat.”

I would like to recognize Dr. Silverburg. He had a great deal of influence on my four-year career here at Catawba College. And I would also like to recognize your great mayor. We are very, very good friends and we work very closely together. I learned that in Salisbury to be elected mayor, your last name has to be Kluttz. You have got one of the great regional, state mayors that we are so proud to work with. She is playing an extremely strong leadership role working with the other major mayors of North Carolina. She’s an officer on the Metropolitan Council, which is a group of mayors of cities of over 25,000 people. We really look to her for leadership.

I brought up the Super Bowl in Houston. The reason I bring that up is this: I don’t want us to become Houston. Everyone talks about not wanting to become Atlanta. No, it’s Houston we do not want to become. Let me tell you why. First of all, Houston has absolutely no land-use planning whatsoever. They only have one zoning law, and that is they can’t put a strip club within 500 feet of a school. That’s it. That’s the only zoning regulation they have.

It is a city of highways just full of congestion, and it’s very ugly. And no matter where you go, it’s
a 45-minute-to-an-hour drive. In fact, I had an old high school friend come pick me up Friday morning in Houston to take me to the other side of the city, and it was an hour-and-a-half to get there. I was joking because I went to Ragsdale High School in Jamestown, N.C. We would be beyond Salisbury by now. We’re in Salisbury and we’re heading to Lexington right now, and we’re still in the city of Houston, and you can’t tell anything different. That’s what I don’t want to become.

The reason I tell you this is because Salisbury, whether you like it or not, is now a part of the Charlotte region. We’re in this together. Or, as I often tell your mayor, we’re honored to be a suburb of Salisbury. We’re in this together. You can call it the Salisbury region or you can call it the Charlotte region. You can call it the Concord region or the Kannapolis region. It doesn’t matter. We are in this together.

Not only do we as politicians now say we are in this together, The EPA just announced we’re in this together regarding attainment. The only attainment area up until last year was Gaston County and Mecklenburg County. That was it. We had our measuring things and the EPA would come down and say, “You’re over. You can no longer build roads, Charlotte.” They did that three years ago. They did that to Atlanta and cut everything off for a long time until the governor took over all regional planning.


Now, the fact of the matter is the EPA has announced in cooperation with the state of North Carolina that Rowan, Cabarrus, Union, Iredell and Lincoln counties are all together in looking at the attainment areas. In fact, the state had requested that parts of those counties, primarily York County and also parts of Lincoln County and Iredell County, should be not part of that attainment area. The EPA disagreed with that. They didn’t want to start splitting up counties. So even the rural areas of Iredell County are now included in our attainment air quality area.

So whether you want to be a part of it or not, we’re here. Now, what are the ramifications of that? Well, the ramifications are if we don’t improve our air quality to meet the new and higher standards of air quality as set forth by congress, Salisbury, Charlotte, Concord, Kannapolis, Monroe, Rock Hill, and all the towns in between will not be able to build any more roads because the federal funding will be cut off. We will not even be able to build transit because transit money is cut off. By the way, that is so hypocritical. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but those are the rules.

So I just want to lay it out to you in this first meeting. The political boundaries are basically those four counties, and you can forget all the politics in between, because we as elected officials now have to work together. We in the private sector have to work together. By the way, we in academia need to work together, and I am so proud of Catawba College finding this very important niche to concentrate on. I think it’s a niche that is going to have such positive long-term ramifications for Catawba College. I am so, so proud of the leadership for finding this environmental niche in which there was a gap in educational institutions throughout North Carolina.

By the way, when I say we don’t get any more federal road money and we don’t get transit money, you know what that really means for people who like jobs? That means you’re not going to recruit new jobs to this area either. That’s what it all comes down to — if you want to retain certain headquarter locations in this region or recruit manufacturing plants or keep manufacturing plants. They want to know how to get employees to and from work, but if they see you can’t build roads to get them to and from work, they’re gone. They are going to go to your competition that is meeting the standards or they will go to another country. That’s how important this issue is to us right now.

Right now there are monitors that are monitoring our attainment status. One is in Union County. One is in York County. Two are in Rowan County. One is in Lincoln County, and there are three in Mecklenburg County. And those are the units which gave Rowan County the distinction of being a very polluted area regarding air pollution, benchmarking against other cities.

That’s a little misleading, I think, because frankly in some areas our models for air pollution are actually getting cleaner. What’s changing is that our standards are getting tougher.

Now, let me tell you what is happening at the federal and state level, and then I want to concentrate on our local area, which is my passion right now. The biggest impact the federal government can have on our air standards is in two areas: One is stricter automobile restrictions, and there are going to be some more regulations, especially on trucks and SUVs which didn’t have the same air pollution standards of cars. Therefore, those are going to have to be implemented in the near future.

It’s not too late, but it’s getting too late to go ahead and do that because now everyone is buying the large automobiles and trucks. And now, by the way, instead of one-car families or two-car families, some people have three-, four- and five-car families. Everyone is dependent upon the automobile, and now it’s no longer an automobile. It’s a truck, which doesn’t have the emission policies that our automobiles are required to have at this point in time.

The other areas have to do with emissions for plants, primarily utility plants and coal plants. There is some debate about at what point in time those standards are implemented, the progression of that implementation, the credits. It’s a very complex subject, but the models do show that our air will be cleaner once those new standards are implemented both for new and existing utility plants, and that will have an impact on this Charlotte region.

At the state level, the biggest change, frankly, is going to be on auto inspections. If you lived in Charlotte for the last 15 or 20 years, you had to get your car inspected. What I mean by that is your auto exhaust was inspected. I inherited my mom’s old broken down Mercedes, and it could never pass the test. Until recently, no other counties in North Carolina had to do that. But now most counties in North Carolina are beginning to have that requirement. That’s a big issue still because there are still a lot of automobiles out on the road that are failing miserably the emissions requirements of the federal government and of North Carolina. That’s a big issue especially when you go international. In Lima, Peru or Mexico City, you cannot see through the automobile exhaust, and a lot of that is because of old run-down cars that don’t meet the new standards of auto emission. That is a huge change at the state level.

Let me tell you the big changes that must occur at the local level. We have formed a group called SEQUL. Our goal involves three areas of SEQUL. One is to have consistent water policies in our region — to protect our rivers, to protect our lakes because we are all dependent on that also. Many of us use the same water supply. You all are more dependent on the Yadkin River. We are dependent on the Catawba River. We have to know as much about what Hickory is doing as what Charlotte and Rock Hill are doing. We’re all dependent upon each other.

The other area is air pollution standards. We’re finding out the next stage of local, state and federal guidelines on emissions is not the emissions of cars. A major pollutant at this point in time is emission of equipment — building equipment, airport equipment, things of this nature. It is a major polluter, especially during the construction phase.

That is going to be the next phase — dealing with emissions from equipment. What we’d like to do is have each city government and governmental unit look at what types of equipment we are using, what types of trucks we’re using – repair trucks, maintenance trucks, delivery trucks. Can we agree that the entire region should start looking for lower emission vehicles across governmental units? Down the road maybe we can look for package deals where we bid as a package on similar kinds of trucks as opposed to working in segregated units. Is there a way we can work together to have consistent standards in that area?

The third area I want to talk to you about, which is a passion of mine, is land-use policy. It is land-use policy which will have a bigger impact on air pollution than anything else. That’s the third part of SEQUL. I firmly believe you cannot talk about air quality without talking about the other types of environmental issues because they are all integrated.

In fact, one of my biggest criticisms of EPA at the state and national level is they are divided into the air department or water department or brownfield department, and they don’t talk to each other. 

Some of the federal EPA policies actually work against each other. You know what industry would do in the old attainment area of Mecklenburg and Gaston counties? They would just move right across the border into York County, which means they’d drive just a little bit longer, which causes more pollution to get out of our attainment area based on a political boundary.

So the air attainment areas I think were actually contributing more to sprawl and delivering industry further out into Lancaster County and York County in South Carolina. The economic development recruiters in South Carolina were saying, “Come to South Carolina. You don’t have to worry about the air attainment areas because we’re not a part of it. We’ll get you the roads to and from the Charlotte airport to South Carolina.”

This was part of their pitch. So the EPA policies were working against us and I think Gov. Whitman, just before she left the administration of EPA, understood that air policies, water policies and land- use policies must be integrated. She started integrating some of her work force so they could talk to each other. By the way, where you put your sewer lines often dictate where your roads and growth are going to go, so you have to have the water policy be integrated in the total air policy.

Now let me briefly mention three areas of land use that I think are extremely important for this region, including Charlotte and Salisbury. One is we must have a developed grid system of roads as we continue to expand in the rural areas of this region. Let’s take the Mallard Creek area, for example, which is close to Concord. When I moved to Charlotte right out of Catawba College, that was pure country. Now, we have every kind of development going off that country road.

Guess why the country road follows a certain path. Because that’s where the Indians tried to avoid the creek. And we have kept that same road all these years since the 1700s. And then one developer gets 17 acres. Another developer gets 100 acres and another gets 200 acres — commercial, residential, industrial. It doesn’t matter. And then they decide that we as the consumer pushed them to do this, so they are not the bad guys because this is what we want.

We don’t want any connectivity. We don’t want to be connected as you build this cul-de-sac road off of Mallard Creek Road. I only want one way into my neighborhood and one way out because I don’t want anyone else in my neighborhood. And that neighborhood that is being built right to the back of my house, they need their one way in and one way out. But there better not be any connectivity between our two neighborhoods because that neighborhood has $350,000 houses, and my neighborhood has $400,000 houses. And the neighborhood next to that is apartments, and we don’t want to be attached to apartments.

So we have apartments, $400,000 homes, $350,000 homes then we have an industrial park. Then we have another apartment complex, and there’s no grid system connecting them. Each one has one road leading out to Mallard Creek Road — this windy country Indian road and everyone says, “Why don’t you widen it?” It wouldn’t make any difference because we’re going to put traffic lights at every one of those exits and therefore we have traffic lights about every 100 yards. Then we have congestion. Then we have air pollution because we develop absolutely no grid system and inter-connectivity of roads.

How many of you live on a cul-de-sac neighborhood? That’s a problem. We’re all part of this. We’re all guilty. We all call ourselves environmentalists and we’re participating in the pollution of our
region because we demanded that there’s one way into my neighborhood and one way out. And what we have to do is have a grid system – and Susan understands this because you have neighborhoods right off of Innes Street. We were at Elizabeth Dole’s house last weekend for her mother’s funeral, and in leaving Elizabeth’s house, there were 16 different ways to leave Salisbury. One by the VA Hospital. One by Jake Alexander Boulevard. One by Innes Street. It was easy to get out. But all new neighborhoods in this region have one way to get out. And then you wonder, “Why is there congestion?”

What you have to do and what we have to do as a region is come up with consistent standards of inter-connectivity and a grid system of roads. The most effective neighborhoods in Charlotte are those neighborhoods that have no cul-de-sacs and a grid system.

How many of you know of Myers Park in Charlotte? Queens Road is one of the most heavily traveled residential thoroughfares in Charlotte and there’s never congestion. Even in rush hour, the backup is very small. You know why? Because there’s dispersal of local traffic that goes through the neighborhoods. It’s a grid system of roads. But the minute you block one of those streets off, all you do is put it on another person. Whereas if you disperse it, it’s better land-use planning and you’re reducing air pollution.

The ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s type of growth is partly responsible for increasing air pollution in areas of sprawl. I saw it in Houston, Texas, and it’s happening still in Union County and Lincoln County and Rowan County. You are repeating the same mistakes that Charlotte made in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. You’ve got to deal with it now as you expand beyond Catawba College and expand toward Granite Quarry and China Grove, because it’s just going to keep happening. Have a long-range of vision of how you are going to have your road system developed because 20 years from now, you’ll be very thankful.

The second area you need to work on is pedestrian friendly access. I had a big fight over this 10 years ago. What does this have to do with air pollution? Well, the fact of the matter is many of our car trips are trips of less than one mile because the only way to pick up a bottle of Coke or to go to the library or to go run a quick errand or to go to the next neighborhood that you didn’t connect to is to go in a car. The other thing you have not done in Rowan County, like we didn’t do in Charlotte, is you said, “I’d rather walk along a ditch along a road than dare put in sidewalks.”

You know Woodlawn Road in Charlotte, N.C., where the Holiday Inn is? You know we have no sidewalks there. It’s a dirt path on Woodlawn Road, so if someone wanted to come out of the hotel and go eat, they can’t. They are taking their life in their hands. They have to get in the car to go one block to a restaurant. Are you repeating the same mistakes as you expand here in the Salisbury/Rowan region? If you are, you are contributing to pollution – and air pollution the most. So think of the pedestrian friendly access.

In Charlotte right now, we are putting in bike-ways on every new road. It’s very cheap. We think, in the long run, it will increase the value of my house and I will become more wealthy. I’m a Republican. I like that. I want my house to increase in value and the houses that are increasing in value in Charlotte are mostly the ones with pedestrian-friendly access. In the short run, they love to walk their baby carriages in the middle of the road. In the long run, they’d rather have sidewalks.

The third thing I want to briefly talk about is an overall transit plan to complement your road plans. By the way, if you notice, I am for roads. Just build them right to begin with and zone around the interchanges right to begin with so you don’t make the road obsolete by the time you finish it.

If you build a road and design it the wrong way and allow unlimited access points along the road, the road is obsolete before you build it because you’re going to have a traffic light every 15 yards. I’ve already seen it on the exit to get here. By the way, Innes Street is a perfect example. It’s our South Boulevard. How many traffic lights are on Innes Street? We used to have bets in college to see at 4 o’clock in the morning if we could make every light between Catawba College and the highway. No one won the bet.

The third thing is transit. We should have a vision of how Charlotte and Salisbury connect. We
should think of both roads and transit. We need to have you at the plate in Rowan County to say, “Okay, how do we connect to Concord? How do we connect to Salisbury?”

You not only want to do it for environmental reasons. You want to do it for economic development reasons, because then you can recruit industry to come to Salisbury that can get to our air- port because the biggest recruitment of jobs in the Charlotte region is Charlotte-Douglas International Airport so people can travel across the nation and across the world.

But if they can’t get there because of traffic, they’re not going to choose Salisbury to put their plant or their headquarters. Rock Hill is getting it. Rock Hill’s economic development brochure has a picture of the Charlotte skyline and a jet taking off and it says, “Come to Rock Hill.” They are planning for light rail to go to Rock Hill from Charlotte right now, and they are already identifying funding sources to do it. And Rock Hill is Salisbury’s competition.

So we want consistent land-use patterns. We want you to be involved in the transit plans. We want pedestrian-friendly access. We want consistent water policies and sharing of the water. We have to work together as a region, and that’s what SEQUL is doing.

You need to push your elected officials to do just that because we are all in this together both for quality of life for future generations and our jobs. Quality of life is the biggest recruiter of jobs in addition to transportation.

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