Transport leader discusses funding law
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Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013

Transport leader discusses funding law

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- CITY OF MATTHEWS
N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata was the featured speaker at the recent Matthews Business Summit.
  • Learn more: A list of key road projects and their status: • Constructing a “superstreet” on N.C. 51 near the intersection of Butler High School to Phillips Road. Cost: $750,000. Expected completion: December 2014. • Roundabout at Idlewild Road and N.C. 51. Cost: $1.6million. Expected completion: December 2014. • Widening Old Monroe Road/John Street from the Interstate 485 interchange to Indian Trail Road. Cost: $38.2million. Expected completion: To be determined. • I-85/I-485 interchange. Cost: $92million, Expected completion: June 2014. • Independence Boulevard (U.S. 74) conversion to expressway from Albemarle Road to Idlewild Road. Cost: $64million. Expected completion: April 2016. • Widening I-485 9.2 miles from Pineville to Rea Road interchanges. Cost: $83.3million. Expected completion: December 2014. • Finish the final 5.7 miles of I-485 from west of N.C.155 to west of I-85. Cost: $139.5million. Expected completion: December 2014. •  Monroe Bypass. Cost: $750million. Currently on hold because of an environmental lawsuit. Source: N.C. Department of Transportation.

N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said recently that the new Strategic Transportation Investments law will enable his department to more efficiently and equitably spend transportation money.

Tata spoke earlier this month to a group of Matthews business leaders about the new state law – House Bill 817 – sponsored by N.C. House Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews. The law was passed in June and will be implemented in 2015.

Tata was the keynote speaker at the Matthews Business Summit.

A per capita breakdown of funds shows that North Carolina mountain and coastal residents receive a $1.50 return on each tax dollar they contribute to the state for transportation. Residents in counties with larger populations, such as Mecklenburg and Wake, receive 65cents for each dollar contributed.

“The new formula makes per capita spending a little more reasonable,” Tata said.

The state will keep 40percent of the collected funds, approximately $6billion over the next 10 years, and allocate it to projects with statewide benefit.

Project selection is designed to be data-driven, free of political or business influence. The selection process will utilize a scale of 100 points and assign values to such criteria as benefit, cost, crash data, traffic volume and economic competitiveness.

Thirty percent of the budget – $4.5billion over the next 10 years – will be divided among the state’s seven regions.

For N.C.DOT purposes, the state is divided into 14 regions consisting of five to 17 contiguous counties.

N.C.DOT engineer Louis Mitchell says the divisions were drawn in the 1960s, based on the prison system at that time. Much of the roadwork was done by prisoners, so it made sense to draw the lines that way.

The seven new regions consist of two divisions with contiguous borders.

Mecklenburg County will be a part of Distribution Region E, a combination of the current Division 10 (which includes Mecklenburg and Union counties) and Division 8.

Counties in Region E are Anson, Cabarrus, Chatham, Hoke, Lee, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph, Richmond, Scotland, Stanly and Union.

To see a map of the divisions and regions, visit www.ncdot.gov/strategictransportationinvestments and scroll to the “regional level.”

The entire region must work together to decide which regional projects to fund. The criteria used will be 70percent data-driven and 30percent local rankings.

The remaining 30percent of the budget will go to the 14 divisions. Each division has a Metropolitan Planning Organization comprised of elected officials and leaders from all municipalities in the division. The MPO determines the transportation plan for its area.

Under the new law, division project approval should be 50percent data-driven and 50percent local rankings.

Less money available

Though the new law makes funding methods more efficient, Tata estimates that, even though the state will grow by 1.3million people over the next 10 years, state transportation dollars will decline $1.7billion.

“All our revenue streams are on a downward angle. We’ve got to find new ways to fund our roads. Our current funding is not sustainable,” said Tata.

Tata said the decline is due to fewer gas-tax dollars because cars are more fuel efficient, loss of tax revenue on new car sales because people are keeping their cars longer, and loss of drivers license renewal fees since renewal has extended from five to eight years for most drivers.

To offset that loss, Tata said, his department is looking at methods used by other states, including a vehicle mileage tax, toll roads and public/private partnerships.

DMV improvements

Tata said his department also is working under Gov. Pat McCrory’s directive to make the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles more efficient. Several changes already have been made, and more are scheduled.

Select DMV sites around the state now offer Saturday hours. Free wireless Internet is being added to all locations.

Select sites are piloting a triage system in which an employee greets customers and checks their documents to ensure they have the necessary information. A computer kiosk has been set up so that missing information can be downloaded and printed if available online, so customers will not have to leave to retrieve documents.

Tata said those sites are showing a 40percent or greater reduction in wait time, and that wait time should continue to decrease as the operation is streamlined and made more user friendly.

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Melinda? Email her at m.johnston@carolina.rr.com.

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