The costly road ahead

From an editorial Wednesday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

Pat McCrory made his political reputation on the strength of a progressive transportation project – Charlotte’s light-rail system. Conservative critics said it cost too much. They still say that.

The former mayor ran for governor by promising to bring the same long-term outlook to North Carolina’s transportation needs. Last week, he delivered an outline of what he has in mind.

McCrory’s 25-year plan envisions advances in highways, rail, ports, airports, mass transit and other areas. As North Carolina grows, its transportation system must meet the demands of a mobile society and fast-moving economy. The state also must catch up with overdue maintenance. Projected costs far exceed available revenues.

The governor plans to reverse that with unspecified “revenue recommendations” he’ll present to the General Assembly early next year. He’ll also ask legislators to approve about $1 billion in revenue bonds to kick-start projects where work could launch soon. Many would be in rural areas.

The borrowing plan is problematic. The governor hasn’t yet identified a revenue source for paying off the debt. When there’s been so much consternation about finding money for schools, universities, unemployment benefits, Medicaid and countless other needs, assuming that $1 billion in transportation debt can be afforded is risky.

But the state can’t get ahead on the cheap. McCrory must present a vision of the future and persuade the public and legislators it’s worth paying for.