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McCrory outlines new strategy for transportation spending

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  • Dividing the DOT dollars

    1989 Equity Formula

    Most highway construction money is distributed among seven regions across the state according to the Equity Formula, established in a 1989 law that created the Highway Trust Fund.

    The distribution is weighted 50 percent on the region’s population and 25 percent on miles of intrastate highways yet to be completed, with the remaining 25 percent shared equally.

    2013 Strategic Mobility Formula

    Gov. Pat McCrory would scrap the Equity Formula and distribute money for highway and other transportation projects through a new, three-tiered Strategic Mobility Formula:

    •  Statewide: 40 percent of all capital funding, a projected $6.4 billion over 10 years. For projects that tackle traffic congestion and bottlenecks of statewide significance. Project rankings would be determined entirely by data on costs and benefits.

    •  Regional: 40 percent, $6.4 billion over 10 years. Projects compete within their seven regions. Division Five, with seven counties including Wake and Durham, would be combined in a region with Division Six, five counties from Harnett to Columbus. Decisions based 70 percent on data, 30 percent on local recommendations.

    •  Division: 20 percent, $3.2 billion over 10 years. Money divided equally among DOT’s 14 divisions. Decisions based 50 percent on data, 50 percent on local recommendations.

    Source: NCDOT


  • Suspicious package found at McCrory’s offices

    The Administration Building was evacuated late Thursday afternoon after a suspicious package was found in Gov. Pat McCrory’s suite of offices.

    One of McCrory’s staff members opened the package and reported it to authorities, who then evacuated the building at 5 p.m. for about 35 minutes. A Hazardous Materials Response Team removed the item for testing.

    Kim Genardo, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the employee was not injured. Genardo could not describe the package or its contents, and said she did not know how long it would take for experts to analyze the package to determine whether it contained any toxic substances.

    On Wednesday, a Mississippi man was charged with sending letters that tested positive with the poison ricin to President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and a Mississippi judge. The letters followed Monday’s lethal bombing of the Boston Marathon.

    “This has put everybody’s radar up,” Genardo said. “Fortunately today we didn’t have any injuries. We had a very aware staff member.”

    The threat drew a large amount of attention to the Administration Building, which houses most of the governor’s staff although the governor’s main office is in the Capitol. Police blocked off Jones Street, while fire vehicles gathered in front, and a TV helicopter hovered over head.

    Staff writer Rob Christensen



RALEIGH North Carolina will build better transportation projects and create more jobs if it scraps an outmoded formula that was created in 1989 to sprinkle road-building money among different regions of the state, Gov. Pat McCrory said Thursday.

His proposed “Strategic Mobility Fund” would still distribute money regionally while carving out a 40 percent share – worth $6.4 billion over the next decade – to tackle traffic congestion and big transportation needs at a statewide level.

“The problem is, right now we do not have a long-term, strategic transportation policy to connect our strong economic regions – to give us the most bang for the limited dollars we have available,” McCrory told political and business leaders gathered at the N.C. Museum of History. “And this is a gap we’re trying to close.”

Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said transportation tax revenue will fall by $1.7 billion over the next decade because better fuel efficiency will continue to cut gas tax collections even though North Carolina’s population will grow by 1.3 million people. But McCrory and Tata did not propose new taxes or other sources for transportation money.

Citing the Department of Transportation’s current plan for 175 road projects over the next 10 years, Tata said DOT could pay for an additional 85 projects and create 65,000 more jobs – just by “using existing funds in a more efficient way.” The key is new efficiencies in operation and maintenance spending, he said, along with a data-driven approach to choose the most beneficial construction projects.

McCrory and Tata said they could not identify new projects that would be built under the proposed new formula. They did not explain existing inefficiencies or old DOT projects that should not have been built.

The Republican governor’s pledge to do more with less – without asking for new taxes – won enthusiastic endorsements from Senate and House leaders.

“There’s no state in the Southeast that’s going to be able to beat us,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from Mecklenburg County. “We’ve got a plan that virtually doubles the investment over 10 years. It gets the money to projects where it is needed most.”

Tata said he wanted to redirect about $120 million a year from secondary road maintenance to spend on new capital projects. That might run counter to a recent trend by Republican legislative leaders, who have steered more money to maintenance.

The change would require legislation. Sen. Neal Hunt, a Wake County Republican, wanted more details but liked what he heard.

“It’s basically reforming the old Equity Formula to direct money, based on the data, to relieve congestion and to accomplish the economic efforts we’re trying to achieve,” Hunt said. “The key point is being data-driven, to get the politics out of it.”

A 24-year-old formula

The Equity Formula was established in 1989 by former Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican, and a legislature then controlled by Democrats. It was part of a broad compromise that included new plans to pave dirt roads, build urban loops and extend a network of four-lane highways across the state.

The formula steers extra money to more populous areas – but not enough, urban leaders complain, to unclog big-city traffic jams. Regional leaders spend their share of equity funds to address local priorities but rarely agree on bigger statewide needs.

So DOT offered an unpopular toll plan as its only option for widening and upgrading Interstate 95. Wake County leaders agreed to toll collection so they wouldn’t have to wait decades to finish the 540 Outer Loop.

Former Gov. Bev Perdue had to create a new Mobility Fund to get money to replace an old, narrow bridge over the Yadkin River on Interstate 85. Under the old funding formula, this project competed with pressing local needs in nearby Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

Jake F. Alexander III of Salisbury served as a deputy transportation secretary when the Highway Trust Fund and the Equity Formula were created in 1989. He welcomed McCrory’s plan to scrap the old formula.

“It’s a wonderful idea whose time has come,” said Alexander, a McCrory appointee to the state Board of Transportation. “This really is an almost Solomon-like division of revenues that I think is appealing. ... Now, the right projects will be built when they need to be built.”

The N.C. Chamber, a statewide business lobby, praised McCrory for his promise to match transportation and infrastructure improvements to the state’s economic needs.

But Gary Salamido, a chamber vice president, said the state will need to strengthen its “unreliable and unsustainable revenue stream” to keep up with its transportation needs.

But McCrory said that before he asks for new tax dollars, he will show that DOT can get more out of the money it spends now.

“We’ve been thinking too much in a small-project mentality,” McCrory said. “You can see that in our roads across the state, where roads go from one lane to four lanes and back to one lane, and there’s no connectivity.

“You can tell many decisions have not been made based upon strategic thought of looking at economic development, congestion, safety and jobs, and that’s what we’re doing now.”

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier
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