Transportation plan is thoughtful

Gov. Pat McCrory unveiled a thoughtful and laudable transportation plan last Thursday. It is an important acknowledgment that there are two North Carolinas. On the one hand, major metro areas like Charlotte are growing, getting new businesses and experiencing economic recovery. On the other, the state’s rural areas and small towns are still mired in economic despair.

McCrory’s proposal to invest more than $1 billion in infrastructure improvements in many of those rural communities appears to recognize that public policy and government initiatives are crucial to helping the whole state prosper and thrive.

Whether the plan is, as McCrory told a Greenville audience, “taking, basically, the politics out” of state highway spending is another matter. McCrory has taken a lot of heat from the public for siding with a Republican-controlled N.C. legislature on tax cuts and other policies that have hurt, not helped, struggling North Carolinians. He got a “C” from the public in a Public Policy Poll last month, and last week more people disapproved of his performance as governor (46 percent) than approved (41 percent) – a continuing yearlong slide.

He could face stiff opposition for reelection in 2016. So, this plan may indeed be politically motivated to help improve the public’s view of him.

Still, we applaud McCrory for his stated aim of structuring a plan to boost economic development in clearly struggling parts of this state, a plan in his words “where we can create jobs, where can save lives, and where we can create opportunity.”

As Julie White, executive director of the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, rightly notes in calling it “an exciting vision,” the plan “encompasses all modes transportation” – rail, port, transit and highways.

We, of course, would like to see more attention to mass transit, which is of great importance to metro areas. And, as some critics point out, McCrory’s 25-year plan does not include a much needed and long-sought overhaul of I-95.

We also have big concerns about how to pay for the needs outlined. McCrory wants the N.C. legislature to agree to issue revenue bonds to “kick-start” projects. “It would be a loan, essentially, capitalizing on low interest rates,” state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said.

Thankfully, McCrory acknowledges that the state will need new revenue streams to tackle these vital road and other infrastructure needs. He says he will recommend new transportation revenue sources to the legislature next year to address needs up to $123 billion by 2040.

Does the governor have what it takes to persuade the tax-cut happy, spending averse legislators to make these needed investments? We’ll see. Yet it was mighty encouraging to see him last week forcefully making the case.