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Business recruiter: Time for an interstate

“Having that shield does make a difference.”
NCEast’s John Chaffee on the need for a freeway

By William F. West
Staff Writer The Daily Advance
Saturday, April 4, 2015

The leader of a regional economic development group said that a freeway via Elizabeth City is needed to help boost commerce between the Raleigh-Durham area and Virginia’s Hampton Roads area.

“It’s about time that northeastern North Carolina has an interstate,” NCEast Alliance President John Chaffee said at the recent quarterly meeting of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Committee of 100.

Chaffee told the group not to get tied up about the specifics of where the freeway would be built, but to remember the big picture about businesses and industries wanting to locate near an interstate.

“There’s a big gaping hole in the northeast,” he said of the lack of an interstate. “And this is an effort to be able to rectify that.”

“Having that shield does make a difference,” he said of the red, white and blue sign being a key in recruiting business and industrial prospects.

U.S. 64 resembles a freeway east from Raleigh and is co-signed as Future Interstate 495 to Rocky Mount.
Supporters of a high-speed corridor also want future interstate signs put up on the freeway-like U.S. 64 from Rocky Mount to Williamston.

They also want future interstate signs put up on U.S. 17 from Williamston into Hampton Roads. While that segment of U.S. 17 is mostly four lanes, motorists encounter traffic signals in Williamston, at part of Windsor, at Midway, in Hertford, at Winfall and at Morgans Corner.

N.C. Division 1 Chief Engineer Jerry Jennings said that the cost on North Carolina’s side of the border would be approximately $1 billion to transform both routes into an interstate.

Chaffee spoke to the Committee of 100 on Wednesday. He gave an outline about NCEast, which was based in Kinston but which is now based in Greenville and which now represents 26 counties.

NCEast had been one of a group of state-supported private and public economic development partnerships until state lawmakers decided to defund them, leaving them with having to find new sources of funding.

The former North Carolina’s Northeast Alliance, which had long been a partnership based at Edenton and whose service area included the Albemarle, decided to merge with NCEast at the start of this year. Chaffee brought former Northeast President Vann Rogerson aboard with NCEast as a senior vice president and also retained two of four former Northeast staffers.

The Committee of 100 serves as an advisory group to the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Committee.

Chaffee said that NCEast was originally similar to the Committee of 100, but that NCEast’s activities were ramped up through the years to be a primary economic development organization and perform a variety of tasks. They include marketing and public relations, along with identifying economic development clusters to help attract business and industrial prospects.

Chaffee said that NCEast’s role in marketing and public relations involves promoting business and industrial development on a regional scale to better attract nationwide publicity to benefit eastern North Carolina.

“What we want to do is be a collective voice,” he said.

Chaffee said that, generally, local economic developers want him and NCEast to go out and identify companies wanting to invest approximately $20 million in a new manufacturing plant that employs approximately 100 people.

Chaffee said that he and the NCEast’s team’s strategy is to stay ahead of consultants hired by companies seeking a narrow list of finalists for business or industrial sites. He said that he and the NCEast team instead goes to meet prospects at specialty shows and also seeks out small-to-medium sized businesses who don’t pay experts and who themselves want a business or industrial site that meets their needs.

A key tool to helping prospects fit those needs is putting economic development clusters on an Internet-powered graphic or map. That way, one can scan the region and see what kind of companies, as well as what kinds of federal agencies and departments, are presently in northeastern North Carolina.

Using the cluster method, Chaffee showed the Committee of 100 an illustration of the huge military and homeland security presence, which includes Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City. More than 80,400 are employed by the military or homeland security in the region.

“It’s a big driver of the economy of eastern North Carolina,” Chaffee said.

Chaffee also showed the impact of aerospace, which can include a crossover with defense. There are more than 11,800 jobs in aerospace and defense products in the region.

“It’s all about keeping pilots in the air and making sure their aircraft is ready to go when they are,” Chaffee said.

With a cluster snapshot now visible, Chaffee said that NCEast decided to focus on defense and aerospace, along with agriculture that adds value to products. He also said that NCEast decided to include a focus on the life sciences industry, which involves microorganisms, animals, people and plants.

Chaffee said life sciences suppliers employ anywhere from 8,000 to 9,000 in areas just east of Raleigh and in the Greenville, Rocky Mount and Wilson areas. At the same time, he emphasized the supply chain stretches down into Carteret County.

Using the cluster method, Chaffee said he and the NCEast team can then go out and tell prospects which business or service in the northeastern part of the state resembles theirs. He also said he and the NCEast team can approach or contact prospects and tell them about gaps in the supply chains of a particular business or service, which means there’ll be potential customers for them in the region.

“We don’t want people simply to think that eastern North Carolina is the place that you drive through and see beautiful fields of tobacco and soybeans and corn on your way to the beach,” he said. “There are other things that take place here.”

Planners look for ways to ease traffic to the Outer Banks

ER2 ALTERNATIVELocal leaders need to implement and advocate for improvements to the existing roads as outlined in the FEIS for the Mid-Currituck Bridge.  Known as the ER2 alternative to building a bridge.  ADD PAVEMENT TO NC12, Southern Shores through Duck and build the flyover interchange at the US158/NC12 intersection.



Facts Speak Volumes

Take a look at the cost used in August 2012 It is $611,000,000. It does NOT resemble the cost used ONLY to score the project in the new STI formula of $410,820,000

FY 2013 TIFIA Letters of Interest
Submitted through September 30, 2013
Amounts in Millions of Dollars



TO:  NCDOT Strategic Transportation Investments Decision Makers

I would like to thank you and the legislature for implementing the new P3.0 data driven process for transportation funding in our great state. This new process of using data removes political influences on projects and lets them stand on their own merit.

I am a vocal critic of the Mid-Currituck Bridge project R-2576 and was very interested to see where that project landed in the P3.0 scoring process. I would finally be able to see how it truly scored against other projects vying for dwindling resources without outside interference. This project has been fraught will “honest mistakes” from Governor Perdue’s office in 2012 among other issues of political favoritism and manipulation.

I noticed immediately when checking the financials used in scoring this project for the new P3.0, found here,,

that the Total Cost for the project, Construction + ROW + Utilities is listed as $410,820,000, NOT The current July 2014 STIP Total Cost of $639,512,000, which is calculated in the same manner, Construction + Utilities + R.O.W. = Total Cost. See current S.T.I.P. here: .

“Other Funds” should NOT be used to lower the Construction Cost, only the Total Cost to calculate the Cost to NCDOT. So it is obvious that someone entering the data for this project, subtracted $237,516,000, the amount of “other available funding”, from the Construction Cost, and then subtracted, “Other Funds” AGAIN, from the artificially lowered project “Total Cost”, to obtain the exceptionally low “Cost to NCDOT”, which is used in calculating the Cost/Benefit Analysis for the project. These “mistakes” lower the Total Cost and the Cost to NCDOT by $237,516,000, which artificially inflates the score for the project. These “mistakes” also keep the Cost to NCDOT lower than the $200,000,000 threshold for a project before it may be subject to a “Corridor Cap”.

Unfortunately it looks like the folks that favor the bridge have tried to pull a fast one again on this polluted project. I hope you are able to get to the bottom of this after all of the hard work that everyone has done to insure that the data is correct and reliable.

I would have thought that this project, that most see as the “poster child” for the reasons for the new P3.0 is being implemented, would absolutely be true and accurate.


Jennifer Symonds

Road Funding Headed Toward Cliff


The Daily Advance Staff Writer

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Roadwork in northeastern North Carolina has been on a bumpy and uncertain path since state officials implemented new, urban-focused criteria for new road projects.

Turns out, it could get worse, thanks to the federal Highway Trust Fund driving toward a “fiscal cliff” courtesy of U.S. Congressional gridlock. The fund pumps more than $35 billion a year into road projects nationwide, including 48.3 percent, or $1.14 billion, of road repair funding in North Carolina.

The federal HTF is projected to run out of money in late August or early September, something the Obama administration says would delay 112,000 road projects and cost 700,000 construction jobs next year. Dwindling gas tax revenue means the fund needs some $9 billion more to avoid going bankrupt this year.

This new fiscal cliff, like previous ones, is looming because lawmakers haven’t settled on how to shore up the HTF, including through reauthorizing a six-year surface transportation bill before the current one expires on Sept. 30.

The fund running out of money would impact 108 projects in North Carolina and cost more than 20,000 jobs, according to Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a national nonprofit advocating better funding for US roads and bridges.

How these dire predictions filter down to northeastern North Carolina isn’t clear, however, according to NC Department of Transportation Engineer Jerry Jennings. He represents NCDOT Division 1, covering 14 counties including Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden and Currituck. The state’s new “Strategic Mobility Formula” already has future road projects in the area in flux, he said.

To start, there’s a glass-half-full way to look at the latest HTF shortfalls: it’s possible DOT wasn’t going to fund local projects in the first place.

Under DOT’s new formula, 40 percent of DOT roadwork funds are supposed to go to projects of statewide importance, along with 30 percent each for projects of regional and divisional importance. DOT is still finalizing scores for every project, including factoring in public feedback like that collected in Edenton on Wednesday.

How exactly federal funds will be distributed to DOT’s state, regional and divisional pots of money isn’t clear yet, he said.

They won’t get even shares, he explained, because federal HTF monies must be used on Interstates, U.S. highways and, generally, routes that support them.

That means federal funds will likely be concentrated in statewide projects, he said. That’s a category Division One fared poorly in, based on DOT’s preliminary transportation improvement plan. The highest-scoring statewide project in Division One only got 33.83 out of 100 points; that’s widening U.S. 158 in Dare County from U.S. 64-N.C. 12 to the Currituck Sound Bridge, an estimated $85.4 million project.

Fortunately, Jennings added, local projects under construction won’t be affected if the HTF runs out of money. Money is already set aside to finish the Elizabeth Street-Camden Causeway reconstruction and the replacement of Knobbs Creek Bridge in Elizabeth City, he said. The same is true of widening U.S. 158 in Camden, he added.

Despite all the uncertainties right now in state-federal road funding, Jennings said it’s clear that the HTF going bankrupt — and taking almost half the DOT’s road money with it — would make competition for road funding much more intense.

Only the highest scoring projects would receive funding, and the only guaranteed money Division One receives under the road formula comes at the division level.

Each division must receive one-fourteenth of the 30 percent allocated to division needs, he said. On the regional level, Division One’s projects would have to beat Division Four’s to receive funding. Division Four includes Edgecombe, Halifax, Johnston, Nash, Wayne and Wilson counties.

In Washington, lawmakers are debating numerous ways to shore up the HTF whose current gas tax of 18.4 cents is increasingly unable to pay for the nation’s growing “infrastructure crisis,” in the words of U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. The Congressional Budget Office in April estimated the HTF needed an extra $100 billion beyond what the gas tax generates to cover highway costs for the six-year transportation bill.

A direct though likely unpopular solution would be to raise the gas tax. Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., are proposing to raise the tax 12 cents a gallon over two years and then index it to inflation. Published reports say the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AAA are among groups supporting the idea.

Northeastern NC’s Congress members offered mixed reactions to that idea this week. Through spokespersons, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan opposed the move, while her Republican counterpart Sen. Richard Burr declined to support or oppose the idea. The spokeswoman said only that Burr hoped to support a “bipartisan solution” to the issue.

Also through a spokeswoman, Butterfield didn’t directly endorse increasing the gas tax. But Butterfield called for Congress to find a long-term solution to highway funding that eluded it in 1993, when the gas tax was last increased. Rep. Walter Jones, R-Farmsville, could not be reached for comment.

Road Formula Still Spurs Frustration

By Reggie Ponder

Chowan Herald

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

EDENTON — Area officials continued to express frustration this week with a new state road-funding formula they say favors urban projects over rural ones.

Elizabeth City Public Works Director Paul Fredette and Edenton Town Manager Anne-Marie Knighton were among the officials who attended a state Department of Transportation meeting held in Edenton Wednesday to receive public input on DOT’s transportation improvement plan for Division One.

The road-building formula, known as the Strategic Mobility Formula, was established as part of the 2013 Strategic Transportation Investments Act.

The new formula assigns points to thousands of proposed road-building projects across the state, and DOT is currently accepting public input on those projects. The feedback will then be factored in with the points already assigned to each project before DOT develops a new TIP in June of next year.

Everyone at Wednesday’s meeting in Edenton acknowledged that the new system generally favors projects in higher-population areas, which tends to make less money available for projects in rural areas such as the Albemarle.

But DOT officials explained that projects also are able to score points for regional impact and for the importance placed on them by DOT’s division offices.

Division One Engineer Jerry Jennings said state highway funds have dwindled because the greater fuel efficiency of newer cars has meant lower gasoline tax revenues. While the improved fuel efficiency is obviously a good thing, it does have a negative side effect because it reduces funding available for highway projects in the state.

Jennings explained that North Carolina’s highway funding comes entirely from three user-based sources: taxes on gasoline, taxes on automobile sales, and Division of Motor Vehicles fees.

Knighton said she was especially interested in the prospects for bicycle paths, which have been a high priority for town officials in Edenton in recent years.

Knighton said a proposed bicycle-pedestrian path to the Chowan River fishing pier, for example, is a great project. But it’s hard to get the project funded, she said.

“This whole system is just another example of how rural North Carolina just can’t compete for infrastructure,” Knighton said. “Everything is going to the urban areas. It’s just very frustrating, but we’re going to keep pushing and keep trying and keep fighting.”

According to the most recent TIP, the multi-use bicycle and pedestrian path from Twiddy Avenue to the Chowan River fishing pier has an estimated cost of $400,000. It scores zero points on statewide mobility and regional impact, and 5.41 out of 50 on division needs.

Fredette described the statewide impact of the current funding formula as a bizarre permutation of the “Field of Dreams” mantra, “If you build it, they will come.”

Since the money follows population under the current scheme, those areas with the highest populations will get the most road construction, Fredette noted. But since if you build highways, people will come, then those areas with the most highway construction will see a growth in population, he said.

For that reason, according to Fredette, the whole system becomes a self-perpetuating cycle in which money, road construction and population become more and more centralized in a few urbanized areas of the state.

When Fredette ran that idea past Jennings, the Division transportation chief acknowledged the basic logic of Fredette’s premise. However, he noted that everyone in the state Division of Highways — including those, like him, working in rural and less-populous areas of the state — acknowledges that there are problems with congestion in the state’s urban areas.

That urban congestion clearly needs to be addressed, Jennings said. But because of a shrinking pot of state highway needs, building roads in rural areas tends to take a backseat to the urban projects under the current arrangement, he explained.

The following is a partial list of area projects in the state Department of Transportation’s current transportation improvement plan, or TIP. The list contains each project, its cost and its ranking scores on several measurements under the state’s new Strategic Mobility Formula:

• Widening the 15.57-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 158 from Sunbury in Gates County to Morgan’s Corner in Pasquotank is estimated to cost $116.9 million. The project scores 10.17 out of 100 on statewide mobility; 9.85 out of 70 on regional impact; and 6.56 out of 50 on division needs.

• Upgrading the 6.82-mile stretch of N.C. Highway 343 in Camden County from U.S. 158 to Shiloh scores 14.28 out of 70 on regional impact and 11.19 out of 50 on regional needs. It scores zero on statewide mobility. The project cost is listed at $17.9 million.

• Widening the 10.28-mile stretch of U.S. 158 from N.C. Highway 34 just east of Belcross in Camden to N.C. Highway 168 in Currituck County has a price tag of $124.5 million. The project scores 12.92 out of 100 on statewide mobility; 15.32 out of 70 on regional impact; and 11.88 out of 50 on division needs.

• Upgrading the 18.32-mile stretch of N.C. 168 in Currituck County from the Virginia line to N.C. 158 is estimated at $122.6 million. The statewide mobility score is 9.26 out of 100; regional impact is 10.46 out of 70; and division needs is 7.81 out of 50.

• Upgrading the 19.23-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 17 from North Broad Street in Chowan County to Okisko Road in Pasquotank to freeway/expressway standards is estimated at $362.3 million. The project scores 12.23 out of 100 on statewide mobility; 9.98 out of 70 on regional impact; and 7.47 out of 50 on division needs.

• Upgrading the 9.19-mile stretch of U.S. 17 in Chowan County from North Broad Street to the Chowan River Bridge from freeway to interstate standards has an estimated cost of $39.9 million. The project scores 8.75 out of 100 on statewide mobility; 13.2 out of 70 on regional impact; and 10.47 out of 50 on division needs.

• An Edenton multi-use bicycle and pedestrian path from Twiddy Avenue to the Chowan River fishing pier has an estimated cost of $400,000. It scores zero points on statewide mobility and regional impact, and 5.41 out of 50 on division needs.

• A proposed 2.77-mile connector in Chowan County from N.C. Highway 32 to U.S. 17 bypass has a price tag of $24.7 million. The project scores zero points on statewide mobility; 12.13 out of 70 on regional impact; and 9.75 out of 50 on division needs.

• Widening and repaving Perry’s Bridge Road in Perquimans County from N.C. Highway 37 to State Road 1213 – a 1.75-mile stretch – is estimated at $1.48 million. The project scores no statewide mobility or regional impact points but has a score of 7.89 out of 50 on division needs.

• A proposed 4.5 mile connector from Hughes Boulevard to U.S. 17 bypass is estimated at $37.6 million. It scores no state mobility or regional impact points but merits 7.49 out of 50 points on the division needs scorecard.

Don’t see a project on this partial list that you’re interested in? You can look for it on DOT’s interactive map at

State Highway Plan Omits Highways 158-168

“If anything, the strategic value has increased due to steady tourism and population growth, not to mention ongoing seasonal traffic congestion.”

Dan ScanlonCurrituck 
County manager

By Cindy Beamon

Staff Writer

Sunday, June 29, 2014

CURRITUCK — The highway through Currituck to the Outer Banks may be crossed off the state’s list of key corridors in North Carolina.

County officials are protesting “glaring omissions” of N.C. Highway 168 and U.S. Highway 158 from the state Department of Transportation’s draft maps for Strategic Highway Corridors. DOT defines strategic corridors as highway systems with strong importance to the state in terms of connectivity, mobility, and economic prosperity.

The state previously listed the Mid-Currituck Bridge and the widening of Caratoke Highway and U.S. Highway 158 from Belcross to Barco as strategically important.

Being on the list did not guarantee funding but identified long-range priorities decades into the future.

Widening U.S. 158 in Pasquotank, Camden, and Currituck was once a priority as part of an intrastate highway system linking all counties to major highways. However, changes in how transportation projects are funded leaves its future in question.

The recently released Strategic Highway Corridors maps include U.S. Highway 17 alone for the five-county area. In the 14-county Division 1, U.S. Highways 64 and 13 are also listed.

Currituck has sent a letter to the state protesting the omissions, and there’s still a chance the draft maps will change. The state 
Department of Transportation is in the public comment phase and may revise the long-range plan before its final adoption later this year.

In a June 16 letter to state DOT officials, County Manager Dan Scanlon questioned why the U.S. 168-158 corridor had dropped in priority. The corridor links Currituck to Hampton Roads, provides a primary hurricane evacuation route, and serves roughly 80 percent of the 7 million annual visitors to the Outer Banks, he said.

“If anything, the strategic value has increased due to steady tourism and population growth, not to mention ongoing seasonal traffic congestion,” Scanlon wrote.

The county also objected to the deletion of another highway project that both Currituck and Camden counties have identified as crucial to the region.

The roadway in the area of Old Swamp Road/South Mills Road would provide a more direct link from U.S. 17 to the N.C. 168-U.S. 158 corridor.

Division 1 Engineer Jerry Jennings said the updated maps take a different approach than previous maps that identified future highway priorities. The name of the list has even changed from Strategic Highway Corridors to Strategic Transportation Corridors to underscore a focus on corridors most important to the state as a whole.

Jennings and Currituck officials say they want to know more about DOT’s rationale in excluding corridors that were once priorities.

“(Highways) 158-168 are both very important to our region and it certainly appears to us locally that they need to be part of the plan,” said Jennings.


Mid-Currituck Bridge Misses Cut

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday, May 31, 2014

CURRITUCK — The Mid-Currituck Bridge has reached a dead end.

The proposed project will not get funded at the state level, based on the state Department of Transportation’s newly released draft list of winning state-level projects.

Funding at the district and regional levels also seems highly unlikely, if not impossible.

The project didn’t even come close to making the list of 100 state-level projects that DOT has projected will be either fully or partially funded over the next 10 years.

A new round of Strategic Mobility Formula scores released in May indicates the Mid-Currituck Bridge had dropped in ranking to 1,108 out of 1,740 proposed highway projects.

The Mid-Currituck Bridge was not alone in missing the cut. No other proposed state-level project in Division 1, comprised of 14 counties in the northeast, was on the list of funded projects.

Forty percent of the state’s transportation dollars goes 
toward state-level projects. The remaining 60 percent goes to regional and district-level projects under DOT’s new method for funding transportation projects.

The projects are scored on five criteria: congestion, travel time benefits vs. the cost, economic impact, safety, and the level of military and freight traffic.

Local officials say the formula is weighted in favor of urban areas, and a quick glance at the list of funded projects appears to support that assertion. Wake County qualified for 25 projects. Charlotte-Mecklenburg had 13.

The bridge’s chances for funding at the regional or district levels also appears unlikely, said District 1 Engineer Jerry Jennings.

“Based on the cost of the project and the limited funds available, it would not be feasible to be funded at the regional or division level,” Jennings said about the bridge.

The bridge has several factors working against it.

First, it didn’t even score higher than other highway projects proposed for the region.

Eighteen projects in the 20-county region scored higher than the bridge project, most in higher population areas closer to Interstate 95.

The bridge’s high price tag also works against its chances.

Jennings said the region will have about $44 million total to distribute for road projects each year.

With $173 million needed for the bridge’s construction, the project would consume not quite four years worth of funding for a sprawling region that stretches from Interstate 95 to the coast, from the Virginia state line to Dare and Hyde counties.

Funding at the 14-county District level would be even less likely. Jennings said he’s expecting about $32 million a year to fund highway projects, ferries, airports and bike and pedestrian improvements. With so many projects in the mix, the money will not go far, predicted Jennings.

“There’s a tremendous amount of needs competing for a very limited amount of funding,” said Jennings.

Which projects will be approved at district and regional level has not been fully decided yet.

Unlike at the state level, local officials will have some input into what projects are selected at the regional and district levels.

The state score counts 70 percent toward a regional project’s chances for funding; local input counts 30 percent. Rural planning organizations, comprised of commissioners from each of the 20 counties, will have 15 percent sway over what projects are selected. Jennings will have another 15 percent.

Even with 30 percent of its score undecided at the regional level, The Mid-Currituck Bridge still has the odds against it. Eighteen projects will start out with higher scores and a better chance of getting funded at the regional level.

To override that deficit, even if it is possible, would require sacrificial support by other counties. To pay for the bridge, other counties would have to be willing to give up funding for projects their citizens need.

Currituck can try again to seek state-level funding for the bridge two years from now when the state re-prioritizes projects.

Results may be no better, however.

The bridge’s score is not likely to improve much — unless DOT changes its formula for selecting projects, Jennings noted.

Latest News and Updates From NCDOT 3-19-2014

March 19, 2014

Project planning and implementation of the Mid-Currituck Bridge is currently on hold while NCDOT reviews the state, regional, and local transportation improvement funding priorities using a new Strategic Mobility Formula.

The Strategic Transportation Investments bill was signed into law in June 2013. It created a new Strategic Mobility Formula to help North Carolina better prioritize transportation investments. The Mid-Currituck Bridge Project is being ranked under this new funding formula. The objective of this new formula is to appropriately align transportation policy and priorities at the statewide, regional, and local levels based on available funding. For more information on the Strategic Mobility Formula, go to The law requires that NCDOT release a draft revised State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) by January 1, 2015 that reflects the effect of the new formula. The STIP allocates anticipated transportation revenues among projects statewide for a seven-year period.

In addition, the Strategic Transportation Investments bill repealed the state revenue bond funding authorization or gap funding for the Mid-Currituck Bridge Project that would have paid bridge construction, operation, and maintenance costs not covered by tolls. If the Mid-Currituck Bridge Project ranking is such that inclusion in the new STIP is appropriate, funding could be restored to the project.


Road Projects’ Rankings Due Soon

Road projects’ rankings due soon

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Nobody has to tell the Albemarle region to dream big for highways, airports, ferries, bike paths and other transportation projects.

Counties in the region have compiled a wish list for future transportation projects totaling in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

The list includes the Mid-Currituck Bridge, ferry replacements, airport improvements, bike and pedestrian trails, and 130 other various transportation projects within the 10-county Albemarle Regional Planning Organization.

Eventually, all the projects will be scored and ranked according to the state’s new transportation funding formula. No one knows yet what new projects — or what projects on the state Department of Transportation’s old list — will rise to the top.

Gov. Pat McCrory and state lawmakers adopted a new transportation funding policy last year they say will more objectively decide which projects are the most needed across the state.

Odds are most of the locally-proposed projects will not make the cut. The wish list appears way too costly for the state’s budget.

The 14-county district comprising DOT’s Division I has $36 million appropriated for state roads, bicycle/pedestrian, aviation and ferry projects. Most of the 130-plus projects proposed in the region would be funded at this level.

Another $44 million will be available for projects funded at a 20-county regional level. Those projects cover North Carolina roadways and regional transit programs.

Some projects — like the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge — will compete for funds available at the state level. These projects mostly focus on major highway projects of statewide importance.

Scores for local projects are tentatively scheduled to be ready by July 31. After then, the state’s Strategic Planning Office of Transportation will decide what top-ranking projects it can actually fund.

Part of the scoring process will take place at the local level.

The Albemarle Regional Planning Organizations, comprised of county commissioners from 10 counties including Currituck, Camden, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Chowan, will meet next week to discuss its scoring criteria. Traffic counts, crash risks and lane size could all factor into what road projects score the highest. The ARPO will schedule a 30-day public comment period, possibly in mid-March, after it finalizes its scoring method.

The ARPO’s score will only be part of each local project’s overall score.

The scoring breakdown for Division 1 projects is:

• 25 percent will be the ARPO score

• 25 percent will be the score by DOT’s Division I staff

• 50 percent will be the state’s SPOT score based on another formula designed to measure the project’s worthiness.

At the regional level, the SPOT score counts for 70 percent of the score. At the state level, the SPOT score counts for 100 percent of the score.

Even top-scoring, top-ranked projects are not guaranteed funding, said Angela M. Welsh, ARPO planning director.

For now, the list still includes projects that have waited unsuccessfully for years to get funded.

It also includes three new proposals asking the state to fund stormwater improvements.

Currituck Commissioner Butch Petrey said he asked DOT to fix flooding problems at N.C. Highway 168 and Puddin Ridge Road that some residents claim were created when NC 168 was widened years ago.

Welsh said she’s not sure if DOT will allow stormwater projects to be considered, but she’s added it to the list until she gets clear direction.

Ferry replacements are also on the project list but that could change. The ARPO could adopt a state DOT proposal to charge tolls as an alternate way of funding ferry replacements. The ARPO board is scheduled to hear the proposal Monday but it is not clear when, or if, a vote will be taken on the politically hot topic.

Currituck officials and state lawmakers say the tolls are unfair to Knotts Island residents who rely on the Knotts Island-Currituck ferry for everyday business.

If the ferry replacements remain on the project list, they will be scored along with all of the other region’s proposed projects.


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