Light rail line near Brickhouse Tavern. Photo by Luca Voichick.

By: Lauren Do ’21 (she/her), Staff Writer

Future Davidson students may not have to worry about transportation to and from the grocery store, restaurants, shows, and even the Charlotte Douglas Airport. While Davidson may be one of Charlotte’s suburbs, the commute on Interstate 77 is often difficult and time-consuming, and many students lack easy access to cars on campus. To solve the issue, the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) is working on plans to implement Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to connect the suburbs of Davidson, Cornelius, and Huntersville to Charlotte.

Currently, a corridor owned by railway company Norfolk Southern runs through the three suburbs and into the city. According to Cornelius Mayor Woody Washam, the MTC has made efforts for more than 20 years to use that corridor for public transit. Years ago, there were plans to use the corridor for a commuter rail system, but “it kind of dead-ended,” Mayor Washam said.

Mayor Washam stated that Norfolk Southern has had a shift in leadership and is no longer using the corridor that runs through the area. However, Washam no longer thinks a commuter rail is the solution. Right now, the MTC’s focus is BRT. “If we can’t get the light rail,” Washam said, “we have to get some sort of transit going.”

While use of the corridor for public transportation is still up in the air, Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox said, “dialogues are happening.” Although light rail would be the best option in an ideal world, Mayor Knox noted that, as is, the corridor lacks adequate space to build a light rail without property acquisition, which would be highly disruptive to the towns’ communities. So, Knox believes that BRT is currently the best option. The system would consist of tandem buses hooked together, resembling subway cars and completely electric. Mayor Knox said, “We could easily partner with Duke Energy to buy kilowatt hours to help with charging the electric buses.”

But even if they purchased the corridor today, “it would be seven or eight years to get it going because of diversion of small roads, safety crossing, real estate, etc.,” Mayor Knox said.

Additionally, both the MTC and Yancey Fouché, the Director of Sustainability at Davidson College, are excited for the higher level of sustainability BRT can bring to the area. “It’ll keep cars off I-77 and off of our roadways in general,” said Mayor Washam, which he believes will help the environment by reducing pollution.

In terms of the college’s sustainability efforts, “transportation is typically the largest share of our carbon footprint,” Fouché noted. “It will greatly improve the sustainability from campus, but it won’t show up on the numbers” because the data cannot be collected once students leave campus.

Although the transportation system is many years away, it will greatly impact the lives of future Davidson students. Fouché believes the BRT system will help narrow some equity gaps on campus. She noted that about half of the student body has cars, while the other half does not, and BRT will make travel both in the surrounding area and into Charlotte much more accessible for all students.

Although the focus of the MTC is to increase transportation between the suburbs and Charlotte, Fouché acknowledged that, for students, the need is more focused on moving through the Lake Norman area for shopping, healthcare, and other necessities. Despite the focus on the quick commute into the city, “whether it’s BRT or rail, there will be a spine approach, and it will make stops in those areas,” she said.

According to Fouché, the plans will include a transportation hub, “the first of its type on campus.” Its location is still to be determined, but it will be accessible and within walking distance to students.

Victoria Fusco ’23 has a car on campus, which she enjoys using to travel within the area, and believes a transit system might slow down her local commutes. However, “since Charlotte is a decently long drive from Davidson, [public transit] would save a lot of time and effort,” she said. “I’ve spent up to an hour in traffic both ways.”

Mary Ture ’21 does not have a car at Davidson, but she still feels similarly to Fusco. With so many friends with cars, Ture feels it is more convenient to carpool with another student to travel within the suburbs. In terms of travelling to Charlotte, she said, “I think a transit system would make it easier to go to Charlotte when needed,” either to travel to and from the airport or to get to know the city.

Fortunately, current options exist in the meantime while the MTC develops plans for BRT. According to Mayor Knox, two variations of regular buses are running: standard and express. The standard has more stops on the way to Charlotte, while the express option has a more direct route into the city. “We also have the village rider that takes you back and forth between Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville,” he said.

Regardless of how students choose to use the future transit system, it will make travel significantly more accessible and simple, and might even encourage more off-campus diversion. Fusco said, “I would travel to Charlotte a lot more than I do now. I also think I’d find myself willing to discover areas of Charlotte I’ve never been before, since travel would be so much more accessible.”

A previous version of this article stated “According to Mayor Knox, the MTC is working on a proposal to buy the corridor from Norfolk Southern.” This phrase was removed on 11/12/2020 to more accurately reflect the hypothetical nature of this purchase.