Keep Pedaling

The following article was written exclusively for “The Flame” – a product of Collaborative Solutions Group. To read all of the articles, visit: https://courses.collaborativesolutionsgroup.com/flame-2020-vol-5

Last fall, Collaborative Business Solutions hosted a two-day Leadership Mastery Summit in Huntersville.  Just over a dozen speakers shared their unique stories motivating and enlightening those who could join the summit virtually.

While I was excited to be one of the speakers on day two of the event, perhaps a bigger thrill was sharing the stage with some of the nation’s outstanding motivational speakers.  Among them was Nate Salley, former Ohio State National Champion Safety who played for the Carolina Panthers from 2006-2009.

Nate Salley, former Ohio State Buckeye National Champion and Carolina Panther Safety, speaks at The Leadership Master Summit last month. Photo Courtesy Sarah Mitchell, CPP, Sarah Lynn Studio

Nate now speaks to groups with his company Audible Coaching and Consulting. As a huge College Football fan, I remembered Nate from his playing days with the Ohio State Buckeyes and enjoyed watching him on Sunday afternoons with our Carolina Panthers.

Salley’s program entitled, “Three Steps to Walking in Your Purpose,” spoke about the challenges’ individuals face as they define their purpose in life. As I write this column, perhaps no time in our career have we faced greater challenges than those presented by this COVID-19 pandemic – Challenges to our health, to our business, and to our relationships.

If the virus we battle were not enough, we are dealing too with the issues related to diversity and inclusion. The death of George Floyd a few months ago, at the hands of  the Minneapolis Police, has become a “Tipping Point” for African Americans as we all begin a much-needed dialogue about race in America.

I listened intently as Nate began discussing the life lessons he shared with his own son. Pausing to look around the room, Nate beamed as he discussed how he taught his son how to ride a bike. He shared how he held him firmly on the seat of the new bike and promised he would be right there to keep him from harm.  As his son started pedaling, and panicked, realizing he was easing out of his father’s arms.  Nate assured him, “He would be there…keep pedaling and even if you fall, I  will get you back up.”

I could not help but think back on my first experience on a bike.  While many others in my neighborhood began with training wheels, my dad simply started me off on a hill, and like Nate, urged me to keep pedaling!

For weeks, whenever I wanted to stop the bike, I simply guided it into bushes, up against a tree, or simply fell off before one of the other kids asked why I simply didn’t use the brakes?

“What’s a brake?” I asked back.

No one ever told me how to slow down, stop or dismount.  Simply watch where you are going, pay attention to cars and the people around you, and keep pedaling.

Both Nate and my dad had similar advice – Whether on a bike or in life, you will fall and some of those falls will hurt a little more than others. But you always get back up and keep pedaling.

As Nate Salley was wrapping up his talk, he reminded everyone that pain had its purpose.  Even this pandemic we are experiencing will provide us new opportunities as we adapt, grow, and learn from the challenges we face.

As I thought about those lessons my dad imparted on me, Nate turned, and his eyes met mine. It was as if he was reading my thoughts when he paused, smiled, and talked about “Legacy.” The Legacy we leave is not all the toys we have, wealth we have amassed, or places we have traveled – it’s the impact we have on others and the difference we have made in their lives.

There will be days when you feel you have given it everything you have. Perhaps a day when you have stumbled or fallen. That is when, as Nate reminded us all, you remember your “why” – your unique purpose… and keep on pedaling.

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce says “No” to new sales tax

Mecklenburg County Chairman Parks Helms speaks to North Mecklenburg citizens in February 2001 at a “Flexliner” Demonstration in Mooresville.  Photo courtesy Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

Every day, I speak with business owners struggling to make payroll. Families who have endured hardships this past year unparalleled in our lifetime, and while there is a glimmer of sunshine peaking through the dark clouds which enveloped our nation almost a year ago, we still have a way to go before we get back to the economic prosperity we enjoyed this time last year. Yet, even as we rebuild and emerge from the darkness of the pandemic, there are those in city leadership who would raise taxes on our goods and service, add to the existing challenges of business owners, and increase the cost to consumers.  As ridiculous as it sounds, there are actual discussions taking place in Charlotte about whether they can get North Mecklenburg voters on board for a sales tax increase for transit.

A far flung idea?  Not really, North Meck voters have had a history of supporting transit. In 1998, the N.C. General Assembly passed legislation which allowed Mecklenburg County to enact a local sales tax dedicated to public transit after a public vote. Mecklenburg County residents reaffirmed their desire to improve public transit options once again in 2007 by approving this dedicated tax by an overwhelming 70% vote. The north Mecklenburg communities of Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville voted for this tax primarily based on the promise of commuter rail arriving from Charlotte.

The Lake Norman Chamber represented over 1,000 active business members, and loudly advocated in favor of this dedicated sales tax for public transit because of what commuter rail and expanded bus service could mean to commerce and economic growth for the Lake Norman region.

In 2001, several local Lake Norman area business and community leaders were taken on a highly publicized “Flexliner” transit ride on the old Norfolk Southern rail line from Charlotte to Mooresville. It demonstrated the promise of how commuter rail could positively impact the north market. 


It was that promise of opportunity and the vision of greatly expanded transit options from Charlotte to North Mecklenburg that persuaded our residents to vote in favor of the transit tax referendum in 2007. But history proved those visions to be mere illusions and false hope, as public transit and rail lines were improved everywhere except in North Mecklenburg. The Airport area, the University region and the residents of South Charlotte all saw change and growth. North Mecklenburg was left with no improvements other than more options for the already underutilized buses from the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Instead of getting new rail lines from Charlotte to Lake Norman as promised to gather our support, voters from North Mecklenburg received little more than a lesson in “bait and switch” politics. 

Almost a decade later, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and I-77 Mobility Partners, a limited liability corporation created by Cintra, signed a comprehensive agreement for the delivery of I-77 toll lanes. In response, Lake Norman residents voted overwhelmingly to cast out elected officials, both local and statewide, who pushed I-77 toll roads down the throats of our citizens, instead of meeting our actual needs and creating expanded general-purpose lanes which were introduced in other areas of the Charlotte region instead.

Now, in 2021, during the greatest economic and healthcare crisis of our lifetime, Charlotte City leaders are once again considering the expansion of light rail which could cost between $8 and $12 billion. According to Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla, “You are talking about $150 per person a year or $600 a year for a family of four for something those of us in North Mecklenburg will receive no benefit from.”

On Monday, January 25th, the Board of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, representing the voice of business in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and the greater Lake Norman region unanimously, voted to oppose ANY further increase in sales tax, for ANY purpose, during this adverse economic climate.

With so many businesses, families, and organizations struggling to just meet the bare minimum costs of living and operating expenses, it is clearly the wrong time to even consider such a measure. More to the point, when it comes to whether or not North Mecklenburg voters will vote to fund another Charlotte Transit Tax……well, that train has already left the station.

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

Finding Light in the Darkness

The following article was written expressly for the May issue of Flame. To read articles written by other Lake Norman Business and Community Leaders visit:  https://bit.ly/2zxxktD

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “In every individual’s life, comes that special moment when he or she will be called upon to do something great, and what a tragedy it would be, if at that moment, they were unprepared for the task.”

G Russell May Flame
Granddaddy Russell working in his garden.

Growing up as a boy, I would spend weekends with my grandparents.  On a Saturday night after supper, Granddaddy Russell and I would sit on the backdoor steps where he would polish his shoes.  He always wanted to look his best for Church the next morning.

I still recall one evening when he asked, “Billy, have you got those shoes shined up for church tomorrow?”  I recall answering that my shoes were still shined from the week before.

Not one to be deterred, Granddaddy examined my shoes, gave me a stern look, and simply handed me the brush and polish.  Granddaddy would sometimes spit on his shoes as he polished them to bring them to a high luster. And I would spit on my shoes as well, because that’s what granddaddy did.

Afterwards we would retire to the dining room table to do our “lessons.”  That’s what he called reading and studying the bible passages we would review the next day in Sunday School.  I would have much rather watched television, but granddaddy said we had to study for church.  “But why do we have to read all that?” I would ask.  “We’ll be reading it again tomorrow.”  He would point out.  “You need to be prepared.”

As I write this column, we are three weeks into a “Stay at Home” order imposed by Mecklenburg Country and the State as we wrestle with the physical and economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. The illness has already claimed thousands of lives here in America and could rage on for weeks to come.

I am not sure anyone in the world foresaw the severity of this outbreak and there is no question our federal and state agencies were unprepared. As grave as this issue may be, I do believe we can emerge from it a much better community and nation.

Few of us will ever face a crisis as dire as this event unfolding before us. While the community, country and world are filled with anxiety and fear, there are many who are emerging as leaders. Not just the healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines, but everyday Americans looking to lend a helping hand. Whether it’s as simple as donating to a cause or delivering food and other essentials to those in need, our community is pulling together!

This temporary pause also gives each of us time to reflect on what is important not only in our business but in our personal lives. Each of us can use this time to reprioritize goals and set new objectives.  A great many of us have discovered new technologies to communicate with clients and friends which we not have previously utilized.

But the biggest opportunity may be the opportunity to be the person you can be after the pandemic and not the person you were going to be.

As a little boy, I could not have imagined that a virus could single handedly stop the American economy and hold our nation hostage. But perhaps this is the moment in time Sir Winston Churchill spoke about. An opportunity when we are called upon to be our absolute best – and a time when we dare not fail in that task.

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

Words do Matter

Like many of you, I have been following the back and forth antics in Washington between President Donald Trump and our leaders in Congress. The news media, Facebook, and Twitter are all inundated with pundits, politicians and sometimes “Friends” weighing in on who’s gone too far, who’s to blame, and just how wrong the other side is on the issue of the day.

amRegardless of what political party with which you may affiliate – you likely believe it’s the other political party and its leadership who could or would be leading this country in a direction which will surely spell doom for this and future generations.

I think both sides have gone way too far in this war of words and political theater. The President and Members of Congress may be playing to their political base, but it is not leadership and certainly not the example we need to send to our young people.

I am reminded of the adage – “Leadership is doing the right thing when no one is watching.”

As a kid growing up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, I still recall the taunts and jeers from other children who picked on me for being a small, thin, and somewhat puny little kid. Today, that’s called bullying and bullies are often harshly rebuked. Back then – it was toughen up or fight back.

Their harsh words stung and holding back the tears that welled up in my eyes, I countered the familiar refrain, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but your words will never hurt me!” But they did hurt… badly, and while time has faded the scars, the memories still linger.

Our nation’s history is filled with patriotism and prejudice. There is much to take pride in and much to give pause over. The indomitable spirit as Americans stormed the beaches at Normandy, led the breakthroughs in technology, medicine, and space exploration and emerged as the preeminent superpower and beacon of Democracy is the envy of much of the world. Conversely, the treatment of African Americans, Native Americans, and Japanese Americans are stains on a glorious landscape of unprecedented achievement.

Our political leadership toss around words like “racism” and “sexist” so cavalierly that it begins to lose its impact. If someone disagrees in a partisan or philosophical discussion, then they must simply be insensitive or just plain ignorant.Pic A National

This past August (August 6th) an event took taking place across this country.  No, it wasn’t a protest or Antifa demonstration. Instead, it was an opportunity for our local citizens, and in particular families, to participate in National Night Out. The community event is a night where local police and public safety officers, including our firefighters and EMT’s, come together each year with our community, as we work to create safer communities for our families and businesses.

While we may not be able to change the tone in Washington, together we can set an example at home with our children – the generation who will inherit this nation – and say Thank You to the Men and Women who bravely serve and protect us each and every day.  If you missed this year’s event – it will take place again the first Tuesday in August 2020.

President Ronald Reagan said, “It’s not enough to be equal in the eyes of God, we must be equal in the eyes of each other.” That message can begin one family and one community at a time, and it can start with us here at Lake Norman!

Words can hurt – or they can heal. Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves one thing when we prepare to lay our head on the pillow tonight – “What did our own words do today?”

Bill Russell

“Growing Pains” – Lake Norman Chamber May Message to the Membership

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to appear on a special Town Hall version of WFAE’s Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. The event, held at CPCC – Merancas Campus, featured our Town Managers, Transportation Planners, NC DOT staff, and Mayors.

The Charlotte Talks program was a discussion on issues ranging from transportation, and education to affordable housing and the pressing need for a magistrate in North Mecklenburg.

Pic c Charlotte-TalksNCDOT’s Scott Cole and Huntersville Transportation Planner Bill Coxe discussed the nearly half billion dollars in approved transportation projects planned for Huntersville, Davidson, and Cornelius and the improvements which will be made to our east- west arteries: Gilead Road, Sam Furr (NC Hwy 73), and Catawba Avenue.

Both pointed out with the improvements to other secondary roads, alternative modes of transportation such as Bus Rapid Transit, Rail, and Bike Paths, and the soon to be opened Managed Lanes – we could see congestion relief.

When Mike Collins asked me directly, what is the message I convey to businesses interested in locating to the Lake Norman region?  I could have taken on the role of cheerleader and sugar coated the issue.  I chose not to do that.

Instead, I responded that I-77 is the “Most Critical Issue” facing our lake communities and the aforementioned projects and alternative means of transportation will not dig us out of the hole we are making when it comes to our diminished quality of life and negative economic impact the Managed Lanes will ensure.

The Toll Lanes will not solve our congestion issue – they will guarantee it! 

As a Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to advocate that the project be finished, and the state buy out the contract and convert one of the proposed Managed Lanes to a Free General-Purpose Lane.  In the meantime, we must harden the shoulders of I-77 and provide additional General-Purpose (Free) lanes which could be used during peak driving times.

Some critics and toll road supporters have likened the efforts of our grass root opposition to tolls as foolhardy, wasted effort, or simply a belief in fairytales. Well, count me as one of the many who still believe in Fairytales!

Neil Gaiman, an English Author said, “Fairytales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

We do have a great many dragons facing us as we grow: our transportation challenges, overcrowded schools, affordable housing for our teachers, police, and firemen  – all critical to our basic needs as a community.

However, these are all challenges which come from growth.  I don’t think any of us would rather live in a region that is stagnant and dying such as a rural community that lacks the basic infrastructure to support business and industry.  It would be devastating to live in a community like that where children leave when they graduate from school on a quest to find employment in a different community that is vibrant and growing.

Each of us have a responsibility to leave our community better than we found it. That is our charge and by Working Hard, Working Smart, and Working Together – we will slay those dragons.  They can be beaten. Quite simply, it is the responsibility we owe to the generation who succeed us and we cannot settle for anything less.

Bill Russell

Picture:   Mike Collins and Doug Boraks of WFAE along with Chamber President Bill Russell on the Town Hall Edition of Charlotte Talks. Photo Courtesy of Ellen Stafford, LKNConnect.com

A Portrait of a Life well Lived

Ask anyone who knows me well and they will likely tell you I am a creature of habit. A typical work day begins with cups of coffee, looking through email, scanning the headlines of various news sites before I turn to social media and catch up with the unfiltered discussions of the day.

Last Friday was a day like many others as I perused Face Book, looking over the rants on I77, comments on the new Beach at Ramsey, and upcoming events over the weekend. I also took note of the birthdays and sent notices to those who were celebrating their special day.

That night was the annual Symphony at McGuire and for those of you who went, you may recall the brief intermission taken to allow for the bad weather to pass.  I took that opportunity to check out Face Book on my phone and there, among the many posts, was one which said that Donna Mitchell was losing her fight with cancer. She was one of those who I had written happy birthday earlier that morning.

It was perhaps fortunate that the darkness had fallen on McGuire as the symphony began to play again. It hid the anguish on my face and the tears which filled my eyes.

I wasn’t particularly close to Donna or her sister Tabetha, though both are chamber members. They joined a couple of years ago with their business Cork & Canvas and celebrated their ribbon cutting at the Chamber.

Donna Pic for Cluttered DeskIt was on a January night last year that the two ladies sauntered up to my table at a Lake Norman restaurant and presented me with a cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Donna explained they were celebrating Donna’s daughter’s birthday. It was something they did each year to remember Destin who passed away in a tragic car accident a few years ago.

Last fall, I read a post on Face Book from Donna as she shared they had found cancer and she was being treated at Novant here in Huntersville.  I asked Tabetha would it be okay to drop by and she indicated Donna would love it.

When I poked my head into the room, Donna was hooked up to an IV Machine. She apologized for how she looked as the chemo had taken a toll on her long locks of golden hair. But what I saw was the radiant smile that I remembered each time that we had met.

We spent the next hour talking about the highs and lows of life. Her low – the tragic death of her daughter. The pain of losing a child and the grief she carried. She had stopped painting, a gift she inherited from her father. But it was the love of her sister Tabetha who encouraged her to move to the lake and start a business with her that filled her life again.

Donna’s love of painting and Tabetha’s entrepreneurial spirit launched the Cork and Canvas painting parties as the two sisters helped people around the lake find their hidden talents.

Then the unexpected – the unwelcomed thief who steals moments and brings pain – cancer.

I followed Donna’s ordeal mostly through her posts on Face Book. When I recently read she was at Wake Forest and undergoing treatment, I thought about stopping by on my visits to Raleigh. But like so many of us, time also seemed to get in the way.  Maybe next time!

On June 1st, I read a post where she spoke of her challenge and how much she appreciated the support of so many. I sent her a personal email encouraging her and reminding her she was in our prayers. She thanked me and then sent the little Smiley Face emoticon. That was our last chat and looking back, I cannot help but think how appropriate.  It’s the smile I do remember the most.

The painter’s hands are resting now. Her canvass is complete. A life filled with the bright bold colors of love in the lives she touched and the light pastels that spoke to her lows. Donna was a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter… and yes a painter. Her illness cut short our time together but it left a portrait not of an unfinished life, but a bright splendid painting of triumph over adversity and the realization to seize every moment with broad bold strokes.

Our last words at Novant was for her to get better so she could teach me to paint. Looking back on that moment, I realize she taught me much more than that. It was really a lesson in how to live.

Special Message to the Membership from 2016 Chamber Chair Callan Bryan

 

Callan BryanLake Norman Chamber Members:

2016 is off to a great start for business in our region and I am excited about what lies ahead for our Chamber during my tenure as your 2016 Chamber Chairman of the Board of Directors. As we are charting the course for the future of our Chamber, I believe it is important to understand the foundation of our strong organization.

The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce was chartered by the State of North Carolina in June 1989 as the North Mecklenburg Chamber of Commerce and whose stated purpose is “The advancement of the civic, commercial, industrial, and agricultural interests of the North Mecklenburg area, and the surrounding territory; the promotion of the general welfare and prosperity of the North Mecklenburg area and its surrounding territory, and the stimulation of public sentiment to these ends…”

In addition, our Charter Bylaws under which the Chamber was incorporated, defined our area: (Article I section 3) “The Lake Norman area shall include the Towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and the greater Lake Norman area.” To this end, our Chamber has, since its inception, included a Town Board Representative from each of the three North Mecklenburg Towns.

Could Founding Chairman John Cherry have created chambers of commerce in each town rather than a more united regional chamber? Yes, he could have. However, Mr. Cherry and the founding members realized our business members could achieve a great deal more working together than individually. This regional model and approach has significantly benefited our businesses and served our communities in a unified way during a period of extraordinary growth.

As you may know, The Lake Norman Chamber was recently recognized for its impressive community service and business related programs and events by being named Chamber of The Year for North and South Carolina.  Our award winning level of regional service will continue as we fulfill our mission of unparalleled representation of the businesses of Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and the greater Lake Norman region.

Our Chamber is committed to maintaining its role in the fabric and growth of the Huntersville community and the Lake Norman area.  We are the Huntersville Chamber, we are the Cornelius Chamber, we are the Davidson Chamber, we are the Chamber for our neighboring lake communities, and we have been for almost 30 years. We are your Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

Callan H. Bryan

2016 Chairman of the Board of Directors

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

Driving Home Your Point

Garden
Granddaddy Russell in his garden

Yesterday on a Face Book Page called I77 Animal House, I was taken to task by an anonymous poster who said my constant criticism of Governor Pat McCrory and his reluctance to cancel the I77 Cintra Contract was in a word “Disrespectful.” While it is true the Governor can, with a stroke of the pen, cancel this very bad deal, he has been steadfast in his refusal to listen to the Lake Norman Town Boards, State Legislative Officials, and more importantly the voters who sent him to Raleigh in the first place.

While our chamber of commerce and business leaders have made the case why this is bad for business, now the NC Justice Department is investigating the company who was awarded the contract by NCDOT.

I have served the Lake Norman Chamber as its executive for twenty years with the primary objective of leaving this community and region better than I found it. Unfortunately the Chamber’s earlier support of this P3 Project, and my very real insistence we had to go along with this bad plan, was a mistake. Settling for the lessor of two bad deals still leaves you with a bad deal.

One wonders whether the anonymous poster is just caught up in partisanship and will go to any lengths to toe the party line or was she one of the former elected or community leaders who pushed this project through and now cringes at the notion she too may have to admit a grave mistake.

Ironically, in deriding me for my position she said in her post, “Your granddaddy would be proud.”

Anyone who has followed my career knows I like to write and many of those stories and articles have included stories about my Grandfather Russell who lost his battle with Alzheimer’s more than a decade ago.

I loved working in the garden with granddaddy. From the time I was a little boy, he had me digging post holes and then chogging the dirt.  No matter how deep I dug those holes, he always insisted just a little deeper.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my father down at the farm, watching the cows that would graze close to our white picket fence. We had to tear down the fence that granddaddy built and replace it with a plastic version that can better withstand the elements.  But looking at the fence, I couldn’t help but recall one Saturday afternoon I was helping granddaddy repair the old one.

As we toiled that hot afternoon making repairs, I shared with my grandfather problems I was having managing the staff of an office furniture company. We had all agreed on sales goals and for a while things ran smoothly.  But after a few months, our sales staff settled back into old routines and performance declined.

After listening to me vent, granddaddy stopped his hammering, took off his old work gloves, and wiped the sweat from his brow. He looked at me for a second, gathering his thoughts, before he asked me to take a nail and strike it on the head as hard as I could into a board.

I did as he asked.  He then asked me to take the claw of the hammer and pull the nail out. Once again, I did as he directed, finding it a fairly easy task as the nail was driven in just so far.

Granddaddy then asked me to take a new nail and drive it repeatedly into the board until the head was flush with the board. Upon completing the task he asked me to remove that nail as I had the other.

I could not.  The nail was flush with the board and there was no leverage to remove the nail. My grandfather in his wisdom explained just as I drove that nail in repeatedly, you sometime have to drive your point home with colleagues, staff… and sometimes a stubborn Governor.

Some might call it disrespectful to question the foolishness of a fifty year bad deal.  People can certainly draw their own conclusions.  I prefer to look at it as fulfilling a promise I made to the businesses and citizens of Lake Norman. I will do everything I can in the time I have left at this chamber of commerce to leave my community and region a better place than I found it.

And to that end, I will on every occasion I have, drive home the point – Toll Lanes at Lake Norman are bad for our citizens, bad for our communities, and bad for business.

Would Granddaddy Russell be proud? He didn’t quit until the job was done and neither will I.

Bill Russell

SPECIAL BUSINESS BRIEFING: The Business of Tolls – Myths, Misinformation and Mayhem

tollsThe Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce will hold two separate special business briefings on Tuesday August 11th and Tuesday August 18th from 6:30 to 8 pm at The Galway Hooker Irish Pub located at 17044 Kenton Dr. in Cornelius. While the chamber of commerce would like to encourage local business owners and managers to attend, the special business briefings are open to the public. Chamber leaders will be joined by Mecklenburg County Board Commissioner Jim Puckett as they cite the business and economic implications of the proposed Toll Lane plan on the Lake Norman economy.

The Chamber initially took a firm stance that the widening of I-77 from exit 36 to just below exit 23 was critical to the overall economic health of the region. Bill Russell, president of the chamber and an ex-officio board member of the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission, points out that local elected and business leaders were presented with the option of widening I-77 through tolling or waiting 20 years or more for the project to be funded with general purpose lanes.  “We did not think putting off relief for 20 years was an option,” he said.  “However, it would now seem the proposed HOT Lanes will not relieve congestion – it actually guarantees it!”

Past Chamber Chair John Hettwer agrees, “Like many business owners in the last few years, I was battling through the recession, building my business, and confident our elected leadership was looking out for all of us.  Unfortunately, they were being given misleading information by the NCDOT, and we now find ourselves in a fight for the economic and business vitality of our region.”

Jim Puckett, Mecklenburg County Commissioner for District #1 has been a longtime opponent of the toll project.  “I- 77 is the lifeline of North Mecklenburg and South Iredell counties and the current design and tolling plans will have a devastating impact on the future of our region and economic development going forward.  With the current ill-conceived plan contracted to last 50 years NOW is the time for the business community to push for a better solution. “

Chamber leaders hope to use the meetings to further educate businesses and citizens on the impact of tolling at the lake and plans to move forward.  Russell said he hopes citizens and business owners will attend one of the two meetings and encourage their friends and neighbors to attend. “I know a great many elected leaders, including our governor, say it’s far too late to stop this project now.  Perhaps so, but on the other hand it’s simply never too late to do the right thing.”

“The Proposed Superstreet for Cornelius (NC) May Not Be Such A Super Idea”

Russell thoughts 1“Left turns are bad!” That is the foundation of the “Superstreet” concept which the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has recommended for Cornelius between Jetton Road and Sam Furr Road. With a Superstreet design, instead of waiting for oncoming traffic to clear to make a left, or using a traditional traffic signals, all vehicles are re-routed to dedicated left lanes. These vehicles then make U-turns at a designated distance and circle back to reach a planned destination.

I am convinced that it is not a street that makes a town or a region super. But rather, it is the people and the businesses who bring life and passion to that community that make it so.

For over 10 years, town staff, elected officials, citizens, and local business leaders have examined transportation plans for West Catawba Avenue. The Superstreet design was first suggested to the town by NCDOT when the first part of this road was widened in 2005. At that time, Cornelius town officials and the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce lobbied NCDOT for a hybrid version of the Superstreet design. We insisted on adding traditional intersections with left hand turns to foster economic and business vitality. Over the recommendations of NCDOT, more left turn lanes were also added (five in total).

During the last few months, the town has encouraged the businesses and residents of our community to weigh in on the most recent Superstreet recommendation by the NCDOT. Planning sessions have examined drawings and computer simulations showing how the Superstreet concept would work. There seems to be no doubt that the recommended Superstreet design can move greater volumes of traffic more efficiently, safely, and quickly through Cornelius.

That said, I am not convinced this traffic pattern is in the best interest of our community. Recently Commissioner Jim Duke pointed out that the Superstreet design does not fit the character of Cornelius. Others have suggested that the section of West Catawba Avenue, from Jetton Road to Sam Furr Road, does not yet have a distinct character. It is important to consider that what exists today is not what will be there tomorrow. Business and residential development continues to evolve and there is so much potential for the future.superstreet

While Hwy 115 serves as a main street for Cornelius and Davidson, West Catawba Avenue is “Main Street Lake Norman.”  It is the main artery pulsating through the heart of the Lake Norman region.  Just as Cornelius town and business leaders fought for the consensus and compromise a decade ago to protect the economic vitality of West Catawba Avenue during its initial expansion, it is imperative for the future of Cornelius and the Lake Norman region that we do so again today.

You cannot load character into a computer simulation. It cannot be drawn into a blueprint, nor does it show up in traffic counts. But you can see it in the faces and feel it in the hearts of the people who live and work here.  It’s what makes our lake towns more than super and the reason we call Lake Norman home.

W.E.” Bill” Russell, CCE IOM

President and CEO

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce