ATLANTA -- Officials from 13 counties in North Carolina and South Carolina have begun to discuss forming a transportation authority that, if established, would be the first bistate transit agency in the Southeast.

A task force set up by the Carolinas Transportation Compact, a grass-roots organization established to explore transportation needs in the 13 counties that surround Charlotte, N.C., agreed last Thursday to pursue the concept of such an authority, H.R. "Sonny" Timmerman, the compact's executive director, said yesterday.

"A group of about 40 people will look into what the scope of a regionwide authority might be and what powers it might be given to raise revenues to finance projects dealing with transportation," Mr. Timmerman said.

"The scope of the authority could range from a loose confederation to a do-it-all kind of entity," he continued. Whatever the form of authority recommended, he said, compact members likely would seek to empower it with the ability to sell tax-exempt debt.

The Carolinas Transportation Compact, which was established in 1989, has only recently set up formal operations, having hired Mr. Timmerman as its first executive director in April.

Mr. Timmerman said the task force agreed to push for a preliminary consensus by February. He said the group plans to meet again on Jan. 23 to consider the results of a questionnaire on a prospective authority. Each member of the task force will complete the survey.

Mr. Timmerman said following the task force's preliminary finding, the compact would conduct a feasibility study due in late fall of 1992 that would explore the projects that might be pursued by the authority and the funding sources that might be made available to it. Funding for that study, totaling $105,000, has been provided by North Carolina, South Carolina, and the 13 counties.

The feasibility study also would help guide any legislation on a new authority that the compact might want to present to the legislatures of the two states. Establishment of such an agency would require approval by both legislatures.

North Carolina state Sen. John Blackmon, R-Charlotte and a member of the task force, said he strongly supports the creation of a 13-county transportation authority that has been given the ability to sell tax-exempt debt.

"Setting up this authority soon is terribly important because we need to quickly provide the region-wide coordination necessary for successful transportation programs," he said. "It also needs to have some taxing powers and the ability to bond in order to do its work."

Sen. Blackmon said that a regional authority is a must for furthering region-wide airport, highway, or rail projects. He said that a possible funding source for the authority could be a car registration tax in the 13-county area. A portion of gasoline taxes collected by the participating counties also might be considered, the lawmaker added.

The first meeting of the compact's transportation authority task force follows Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot's call in his Dec. 2 inaugural speech for counties surrounding Charlotte to help shoulder the city's capital-finance burden.

Last week, in a telephone interview, Mayor Vinroot said he endorsed the concept of a transportation authority as one way this goal might be furthered. "I think a transportation authority might be a very good idea, and I am eager to see what the Carolinas Transportation Compact would do with such an idea," he said.

However, Mayor Vinroot said he would not suggest what type of funding mechanism would be appropriate for a transportation authority.

The 11 North Carolina counties included in the compact are: Mecklenburg, Union, Stanly, Anson, Cabarrus, Rowan, Catawba, Lincoln, Gaston, Iredell, and Cleveland. The two South Carolina counties are York and Lancaster.

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