Megaregion plans are under way

THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVERAugust 12, 2009 

Mayors, utility executives, planning officials and academics will gather today in Charlotte to ponder the future of the fast-growing, urban "megaregion" stretching between Raleigh and Birmingham, Ala.

Energy, water and transportation needs are expected to dominate closed-door sessions hosted by Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and his Atlanta counterpart, Shirley Franklin.

The meeting is a spin-off of a March forum in Atlanta on the infrastructure needs of what's been dubbed the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion, which follows the Interstate 85/20 corridor. It's among eight U.S. megaregions, so-called because half the nation's population growth and two-thirds of its economic growth is expected to occur within the regions over the next four decades.

McCrory, who spoke in Atlanta, said he has urged long-range planning throughout his 14 years as mayor.

"Part of my passion is planning for the future," he said Monday. "If you wait to act, then you've waited too long."

The megaregion's population is expected to grow by almost 70 percent by 2050, according to estimates presented at the Atlanta forum. Its gross regional product is $1.1 trillion, 10 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

Key issues identified in Atlanta: managing growth; preserving the environment; ensuring social equity; maintaining and expanding infrastructure; and staying competitive economically.

Water is already a contentious issue in the region. South Carolina has sued North Carolina over use of the Catawba River, and last month Alabama won a federal lawsuit over Atlanta's use of Lake Lanier in north Georgia.

McCrory envisions energy being the next "wake-up call" for the region.

"We're not going to be giving a lot of speeches," he said of this week's meetings. "We'll start getting into details with flip charts."

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