by Sarah Curry
Director of Fiscal Policy Studies
A press conference was held today by the NC Senate about what they planned to do regarding North Carolina’s transportation funding needs. Here is a press release summarizing the press conference:
Raleigh, N.C. – Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) joined co-chairs and members of the Senate transportation committees on Wednesday to highlight their comprehensive plan to address the state’s long-term transportation needs.
The plan – included in the budget proposal adopted by the Senate last month – builds on the strong framework of the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) law spearheaded by Gov. Pat McCrory and passed by the legislature in 2013. The law is a data-driven approach that directs transportation funding to the most needed projects across the state – not based on politics, but on actual need.
Over the next 10 years, the Senate proposal invests an average $130 million more per year in the STI program, so more dollars are directed to transportation needs without borrowing money. It also fully complies with the STI law by funding projects based on true need. Data from the state Department of Transportation shows the additional investment will allow for the construction of 70 new projects and accelerate a number of others all across the state.
The Senate plan also ends the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars of road money to the General Fund – keeping a promise made by state leaders in the legislative and executive branches to ensure those dollars are spent on building and maintaining safe roads and bridges. And it puts nearly $200 million per year in new recurring funds toward maintenance priorities, ports modernization and other needs.
While the senators praised Gov. McCrory for calling attention to the need for additional infrastructure investment, they also expressed concern about the transportation bond proposal, which would cost taxpayers $2.2 billion in debt over the next 20 years. Interest payments on the bond would significantly reduce available dollars for road-building, resulting in the removal or delay of as many as 80 projects from the 10-year STI funding plan.
Among other projects, construction of the last leg of NC-540 and widening the I-26 Connector in Asheville would be removed from the plan entirely, while construction of a new segment of the Shelby Bypass would be delayed a full year.
Concerns also exist about inserting politics back into the transportation decision-making process, since the vast majority of projects in the proposal scored poorly in the data-based rankings set out under law. More than 300 projects rank higher in the STI plan than those included in the bond proposal. Additionally, the bond would spend $50 million to pave dirt roads – 74 of them dead-ends and 141 less than a mile long.
“We share the goal of finding ways to shrink the gap between our critical transportation needs and our limited funding,” said Rabon. “But skipping hundreds of needed projects in favor of old politically-connected plums is a step in the wrong direction. The best way to achieve our goal is not by stepping backward, but by going forward – and building on the transparent, data-driven process we already have in place.”