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LNTC’s last gasp: ‘We could have done more’

Melinda Bales, LKN Transportation Commission Chairmwoman, takes notes at a recent meeting. The future of the commission is uncertain

Melinda Bales, LKN Transportation Commission Chairmwoman, takes notes at a recent meeting. The future of the commission is uncertain

March 10. By Dave Vieser. The Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission met last night for the first time since three of the four member towns voted to pull out of the commission as of June 30. With its future uncertain, Chairwoman Melinda Bales said the commissioners would meet soon with the four town’s elected officials to determine what shape the LNTC would take going forward.

The withdrawal of Huntersville, Cornelius and, most recently, Davidson, from the LNTC is more than just a policy issue; each town contributes 25 percent of the executive directors’ $80,000 annual salary. However, it’s not the salary which seems to be the major problem but rather what role the commission needs to play in major projects such as the I-77 toll lanes. The executive director, Bill Thunberg, is the former mayor of Mooresville and the owner of Alexander Zachary Jewelers in downtown Mooresville, a town that has been noticeably absent from the I-77 toll lane debate.

Earlier this week, Davidson’s Town Board also pulled out of the LNTC, but, like Cornelius and Huntersville elected officials, expressed interest in establishing a new regional transportation council, one that might include more Lake Norman governments.

Mooresville Town Manager Erskine Smith said, “While we have made no decisions about LNTC, we have also agreed to meet again to discuss a possible new LNTC structure.”

Caught in the middle of all the controversy is Bales who took over the chair after the previous chairman Mac Herring died last March. In a touch of irony, she is a member of the same Huntersville town board which started the movement to break away from the commission, although she voted against the measure.

“I believe LNTC is fulfilling its purpose by working together with the towns identifying and focusing on transportation issues within our region.” she said. “It isn’t always easy.  All the jurisdictions are united in that Lake Norman provides unique challenges and opportunities related to transportation and land use, and each of the jurisdictions does and should have their own community vision.”

Bales alluded to such events as their annual Transportation Summit as tasks which LNTC has continually performed successfully. Indeed, their most recent summit, held in Mooresville, attracted a record crowd of over 200 officials from Lake Norman to Raleigh.

However, she also admitted that there was room for improvement. “In retrospect regarding the I-77 toll lane issue, we could have done more to educate elected officials by providing additional opportunities for discussion.  In the future, the LNTC should be more proactive in engaging each jurisdiction and creating additional opportunities for public involvement.”

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