October 16, 2012, Charlotte Blue Line Extension Full Funding Grant Agreement Signing Ceremony
Thank you, Mayor [Foxx].
Today we are here to celebrate a giant leap forward in the relationship between the Obama Administration and the City of Charlotte and greater Mecklenburg County.
It was about ten months ago that Mayor Foxx, Carolyn Flowers and I stood roughly at this same spot to announce an $18 million grant to extend the platforms and provide for longer trains to the existing Blue Line system.
That investment was needed because when it came to ridership on this Charlotte light rail system you guys were blowing the roof off. You had more people gravitate to this light rail system than any planner had ever expected any time soon. That was an important step forward.
Today we are celebrating a giant leap forward. Today on behalf of Secretary LaHood and President Obama, I’m thrilled to sign a federal commitment for $580 million to extend this line all the way to UNC Charlotte.
With these federal funds, we are going to double ridership again and double the length of this line.
The Obama Administration is very proud to bring $580 million of North Carolina taxpayer money back to North Carolina to create thousands of jobs and create those jobs on a project that’s going to improve the quality of life of Mecklenburg County for generations to come.
The Obama Administration supports investments like these because they embody so many of the President’s goals for the nation. A line like this is going to enable working families to keep more of their money in their wallet rather than hand them over at the gas pump. It’s going to lower our dependence on foreign oil.
It is going to give our children, our seniors, and all of our citizens cleaner air to breathe. It’s going to be economic development and jobs all along the corridor. And it’s going to connect two campuses of one of the greatest universities in the nation: UNC Charlotte.
You know, Secretary LaHood and I were in Phoenix this past week and there are a lot of parallels between what’s going on in greater-Phoenix and what’s going on in Charlotte.
In Phoenix, as in Charlotte, early naysayers said that people weren’t going to get on light rail. People said it couldn’t work here; that people weren’t going to get out of their cars.
In Phoenix, as in Charlotte, ridership went through the roof beyond what anyone expected and now we’re about the business of extending this system to the next community and the next community.
In Phoenix, as in Charlotte, we connected campuses of a great university. Arizona State University has its main campus in Tempe, it’s got a new downtown campus and the light rail is serving as the connection. That’s what we’re going to have here in Charlotte between the Center City Campus and the main campus of UNC Charlotte.
Let me add another thing that we probably don’t talk about enough. Giving the students the opportunity to come down and enjoy themselves on a Saturday night and not drive back inures to the benefit of the entire community.
As the Mayor pointed out, Charlotte continues to be a city on the grow. And, one thing we learned at US DOT from the recent census is that this country is going to have 150 million more people by the year 2050. A hundred-fifty million more people. And a lot of that growth is going to happen in cities that are already experiencing very fast growth like this one.
Faced with that challenge, you have two choices: you can plan for it or be overwhelmed by it and have that growth undermine your quality of life.
The leaders on this stage, Mayor Foxx, your Congressional delegation, the city council, are showing the vision and wisdom to be planning for it and the deserve a lot of credit. Even taking the tough votes to raise local money to make this happen because to fail to make those investments a much more congested [US Route] 29 and a much more congested [Interstate] 85.
You know, this project will serve to benefit even those Mecklenburg County residents that may choose to never use light rail just by taking cars off those very congested highways.
So, this is a win-win-win for everybody.
Let me just say something that echoes what the Mayor said. One of the reasons the Obama Administration enjoys partnering with this community is the strong bipartisan support that is shown for these types of investments.
[Congressmembers] Mel Watt, Sue Myrick, Senator Hagan, Senator Burr, the Governor, all of the overall community, the Chamber of Commerce, local organizations all bind together to improve the quality of life of greater-Charlotte and make sure that the growth in the future doesn’t overwhelm this community.
It’s that kind of unanimity of purpose, it’s that kind of bipartisanship that we need more of in Washington, DC. I want to commend this community for leading the way for the rest of the nation on showing us how it’s done.
Thanks very much