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Fun with polls

And why I-485 is a parking lot

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What would it take to get you to go to a Bobcats game? Apparently, free tickets might not be enough. The results of a poll by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling showed just how tough a challenge the team could be facing. The poll, conducted July 14, asked 500 likely North Carolina voters which of six sporting events they'd be most likely to attend if offered tickets.

Carolina Panthers' games, the choice of 29 percent of respondents, topped out the list. The Carolina Tarheels, at 28 percent, came in second, followed by NASCAR (16 percent) and the Duke Blue Devils (13 percent). Even the Carolina Hurricanes, a professional hockey team out of Raleigh, got 10 percent. The Bobcats, meanwhile, finished dead last with just five percent. That's pretty bad when you consider that the poll also found that 18 percent of North Carolinians weren't even aware that the state had a professional hockey team.

Imagine, then, what it would be like to actually attempt to sell North Carolinians Bobcats tickets.

This could begin to explain why the team initially gave away thousands of tickets, and why team owner Bob Johnson had a public meltdown in April over the lack of corporate and community support for the team.

The poll results also point to something of a sociological culture clash regarding the team. According to the polling firm's findings, of those who said they would take the Bobcats tickets, only one percent were white. That suggests that the shiny shoed wing-tip bank crowd, who were fairly Caucasian last time I checked, have utterly abandoned the team and perhaps the NBA.

Taxpayers better hope that the arena lease, the one that says Johnson is responsible for all the losses at the taxpayer funded arena, is ironclad, or we could get taken for a ride.

Road Rage

An annual study of the nation's roads released by the Reason Foundation ranked North Carolina's urban interstates the 48th most congested in the nation. Only two states, California and Minnesota, had more congested interstate miles. Since a lot of those interstate miles are right here in Charlotte, you'd think the shiny shoes crowd would be more interested in unclogging them.

Instead, a recent column in The Charlotte Observer by Pat Riley, chairman of the Charlotte Chamber's executive committee, and Tim Belk, first vice chairman, pointed to the odd state of asphalt politics in the Queen City. "We are excited that the N.C. General Assembly approved an additional $99 million in road money," the two wrote. "It will be used to help build four toll projects. Two Charlotte regional toll projects were funded, including $24 million for the Monroe bypass and $35 million for the Garden Parkway in Gaston County. The Charlotte Chamber is proud to have played a leading role in building regional and statewide support for this effort."

Huh? While Interstate 485 sat clogged and unfinished and businesses struggled to truck their goods in and out of Charlotte on Interstate 77, these boobs were focused on laying asphalt in Gaston County, a place not exactly associated with major congestion? Focused on a bypass in Monroe? And they are proud of this and think we will be, too? Personally, I'm not sure this is something I'd have pointed out to the public.

Sure, these were regional efforts where everyone works together for road money. But when you consider that while Charlotte was messing around with far-flung roads with relatively little local benefit, the Raleigh area was putting the finishing touches on a spectacular lobbying job that earned them a billion-dollar toll expressway that will make zipping around the Research Triangle Park area a breeze by connecting existing highways in western Wake County. The expressway is now scheduled to open in 2010. At the same time, Cumberland and Johnson counties were busy getting the funds to widen Interstate 95 to eight lanes. And Fayetteville officials walked away with the funds to complete a loop the city doesn't even need.

"But unfinished business remains," Riley and Belk continued in their column on the wonders of the Chamber's lobbying effort. "In 2009, our priority will be to win money to speed up finishing Interstate 485 and widening its southern portion. The N.C. Department of Transportation does not plan to begin construction of the final leg (connecting I-77 in the north to I-85 in the university area) until 2015."

Huh? They are going to wait until 2009 to make this a top priority? Why not pick up the phone now? No wonder I-485 is a parking lot.

To be fair, local leaders have finally begun to officially study how toll roads might work here. But they are years behind their counterparts in other North Carolina cities. Sure, local leaders are great at whining that we don't get road dollars from the state. But if our own admitted priorities were getting funding for roads in other counties that only marginally benefit Charlotte when compared to our needs, we really don't have much right to complain that the final leg of I-485 won't be finished until 2015 or that most people reading this column will be dead by the time the state finishes the expressway on Independence Boulevard.

It's becoming increasingly obvious why that's the case.

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