(TNS) –– John Torbett, who represents most of eastern Gaston County in the state House and serves as chairman of the House Transportation Committee, spoke to the Gaston Regional Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning about transportation issues and priorities facing the region and the state. Some highlights of his remarks:
AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES: Once a science fiction fantasy, Torbett says autonomous vehicles are far closer to functional usage than he would have imagined just a few years ago. The use of these "driverless" vehicles will impact how people travel and how the state plans for road usage within the next decade.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES: Tesla, a car manufacturer which specializes in all-electric vehicles, is changing the face of the American auto industry and, as its prices become lower, will soon be changing the face of the American driving landscape. Young consumers want all-electric vehicles, Torbett said, and they will prove especially popular in urban areas. All-electric vehicles will not, of course, be subject to the state's primary source of transportation revenue, the gasoline tax.
TRANSPORTATION REVENUE: The coming proliferation of all-electric vehicles makes it more important than ever that North Carolina expand and diversify its revenue stream for transportation. Currently, the state relies upon Division of Motor Vehicle fees, the gasoline tax, and taxes on new vehicle sales. "Gasoline-powered vehicles are going to decline. Personal ownership of vehicles is going to decline," Torbett said. "We have got to figure out new ways to pay for our transportation network."
CONNECTING GASTONIA TO CHARLOTTE: Growth in Mecklenburg County, particularly in the area to the west of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, makes it vital to Gaston County's future to have a new, southern connection across the Catawba County. "People ask me if I am in favor of light rail," Torbett said. "I say, 'yes.' People ask me if I am in favor of a new bridge. I say, 'yes.' I am in favor of whatever we need to do to bring growth and jobs and revenue to Gaston County."
U.S. 74 CORRIDOR: A key to economic growth in North Carolina, which many people may not consider, Torbett said, is expanded usage of the state's two ports in Morehead City and Wilmington, but particularly in Wilmington. It is not only vital to improve the port itself, making it able to handle larger ships and more traffic, but the state must also have a transportation corridor leading straight to Wilmington from the western part of the state – the route along U.S. 74. To make that work, however, it will be necessary to build bypasses around Gastonia and other urban areas along the way.
TOLL ROADS: The N.C. General Assembly ruled several years ago that tolls may be charged in North Carolina only on newly constructed roads or on new lanes added to existing highways, such as the toll lanes being built along Interstate 77 north of Charlotte. "Tolling will inevitably be a part of the solution for North Carolina's transportation revenue stream," Torbett said. "It has to be."
©2017 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.