The event was the first in a series of 21st Century North Carolina Forums sponsored by the Sanford Society, a student organization that promotes progressive public policies.
Jamie Cox, Sanford Society president, said the forum's purpose was to discuss how transportation must change to meet the state's new needs. "(The forum) focuses on the evolution of state transportation as we transform from a rural to an urban state," he said.
Cox said state development has brought focus to issues that residents and officials did not have to deal with half a century ago, such as overcrowding and smog.
Sen. Howard Lee, D-Orange and chairman of the N.C. Smart Growth Commission, said he believes the conflict between current transportation needs and traditional rural attitudes is a reason for problems in the state.
Lee said when many of the state's transportation systems were created, officials did not predict the tremendous impact cars would have.
He added that while state officials should continue to look for ways to accommodate the growing number of automobiles, they also must offer benefits to people who use mass transit.
Beau Mills, chairman of the N.C. Municipalities Commission and adviser to former Gov. Jim Hunt on Smart Growth issues, said transportation problems resulted from a growing population.
Mills said the extent to which the population has grown will become evident when preliminary state census reports are released. "For the first time in our history, we're going to find out that this is an urban state," he said.
Mills also said he believes the current budget shortfall, which is about $750 million, will force N.C. officials to take a serious look at the future of transportation. "When we have a situation, such as the budget issue, it gives you an opportunity to reassess your priorities."
John Tallmadge, senior transportation planner for the Triangle Transit Authority, said state officials must find ways to expand transportation while not constructing roads everywhere. "The coordination of transportation and land use is an important piece of the puzzle."
Asad Khattak, UNC professor of city and regional planning, said he attended the forum to hear the ideas of the panelists.
Khattak said some people are worried about how state officials will meet future transportation needs but that he thinks officials will be able to find solutions and reduce the uncertainty.
"Right now there is some uncertainty," he said. "Through coordination and through hard work, that uncertainty will be reduced."
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