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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.


Currituck Asked to Help Pay for Span

“There’s certainly a level of frustration that has built up with the struggle of trying to get the project to advance.-”

Dan Scanlon
Currituck County manager

By Cindy Beamon

Staff Writer The Daily Advance

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

CURRITUCK — State transportation officials apparently have suggested Currituck contribute county dollars to the Mid-Currituck Bridge project as a way of improving the span’s chances of receiving state funding under a new road-building formula.

But three county commissioners reached this week say the county has no plans to follow the advice.

County staff and commissioners met with high-ranking state Department of Transportation officials last week to see how to boost the project’s chances for funding. After the bridge was de-funded last year by state lawmakers, the project now has to compete with other road projects for funding.

DOT officials suggested the county could contribute local dollars to improve the bridge’s chances of getting built. The state’s Strategic Mobility Formula allows local governments to donate funds to better their projects’ scores and rankings with the state.

But county commissioners said the $50 million to $100 million DOT officials mentioned is too far-fetched to even consider.

“I would not put that burden on the people of Currituck County. That’s not a consideration as far as I’m concerned,” said Commissioner Paul Martin.

Commissioner Butch Petrey said the figure is outrageous considering the county’s entire general fund budget for the year is $46 million.

County Manager Dan Scanlon said he didn’t think the county could offer enough to benefit the Mid-Currituck Bridge project. Scanlon said the state officials offered no other new suggestions for making the project competitive.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul O’Neal said he attended the meeting to find out how to move the bridge project forward but did not get a definitive answer from DOT on how it can be done.

“We are asking them to look at everything, financing, design, everything from top to bottom,” said O’Neal.

As it stands now, the county will have to wait until January to find out how the mid-county bridge project scores with the new funding formula. The county can try again if officials want to try to improve the score.

County officials say they’ve been told repeatedly by state officials the bridge will fare well when it’s scored against other projects.

Commissioners remain skeptical, however, after being forced to re-start a project that once had a scheduled completion date of late 2014.

Even the project’s cost remains uncertain.

The DOT has estimated construction of the bridge, eyed as a toll road, will cost $460 million. But earlier estimates involving a private partner set the bridge’s cost at $600 million and higher.

O’Neal said the removal of $120 million in state funding once earmarked for the project isn’t included in DOT’s figures. He wonders where those extra funds will come from.

Scanlon said DOT will need to reconcile the difference between cost estimates at some point.

Commissioners said they learned at the meeting that cutting the bridge project’s costs will not be easy. Because the Currituck Sound is shallow, a barge with a crane to build the bridge will not work. Instead, a temporary bridge will have to be built before work begins on the actual seven-mile span connecting the Currituck mainland and the Outer Banks.

Cutting corners at the Aydlett landing won’t work either. DOT had considered lowering a raised road across swampland near the community, but environmental concerns have shut that door and added more dollars to the cost.

With all the uncertainty, one thing appears certain: DOT doesn’t have a backup plan for relieving traffic congestion on the N.C. Highway 168/U.S. Highway 158 corridor, county officials said. Simply widening the highway and N.C. Highway 12 in Corolla wouldn’t solve traffic backups and would cost more than a bridge, DOT officials have said.

Commissioners Petrey, O’Neal and Martin said last week’s meeting didn’t relieve their concerns about the bridge project’s future, although they were grateful to Board of Transportation member Malcolm Fearing for arranging the discussion.

“There’s certainly a level of frustration that has built up with the struggle of trying to get the project to advance,” said Scanlon.

Martin said commissioners’ focus will have to be on trying to keep the project moving forward.

“None of the answers made us happy, but they didn’t say ‘no,’ so we will keep trying,” he said.


Bonner Bridge Progress Hits Legal Roadblocks

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© December 7, 2013


State and local officials loudly blamed environmental groups’ legal battles for this week’s sudden closure of the deteriorating Herbert C. Bonner Bridge for safety reasons, cutting off this island from the mainland.

Those battles have delayed indefinitely construction of a replacement bridge.

And those battles will continue long into the new year, at least.

The first paperwork – in the form of opening written arguments – is expected to be filed Monday in an appeal by the Southern Environmental Law Center against a federal judge’s approval of the replacement bridge, said Derb Carter, its senior attorney.

Final written arguments aren’t due in the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals until Feb. 19, according to online court records. Oral arguments aren’t expected to be scheduled until later in the year, and the judges will deliberate after that.

State officials closed the 50-year-old Bonner Bridge with little warning Tuesday, trapping residents and visitors on both sides of Oregon Inlet until emergency ferries began running the next day. They awarded a 90-day, $1.6 million contract to shore up supports exposed by underwater erosion.

The lawsuit and its appeal lambasted by officials almost certainly will go on longer.

They involve two environmental groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association contend that the planned $216 million replacement bridge – which would run nearly 3 miles parallel to the current span – would harm wildlife and estuarine habitat, and be continually subject to erosion problems.

Instead, the groups favor a 17-mile bridge that would arc 4 miles into the Pamlico Sound before landing in Rodanthe. It would be the second-longest bridge in the United States, according to court records.

The shorter bridge “ignores the obvious and persistent problems of N.C. 12,” Carter said. “The ocean will continue to scour the bridges and erode the road.”

The state’s plan is to build bridges wherever the ocean breaks through the highway, a piecemeal method that is not allowed by law, he argued.

“They build a bridge and then figure out the rest later,” he said.

The state, meanwhile, maintains that the shorter bridge would not harm the Outer Banks habitat, which attracts rare wildlife such as the piping plover shorebird. The longer bridge, it says, would cost too much – more than $1 billion – and would bypass the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, a popular stopping point for many tourists on N.C. 12.

“The parallel bridge is the most economical and environmentally sound option,” said Mike Charbonneau, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

Work on the new span was set to begin early this year and be finished by 2015.

A Bonner Bridge replacement first was proposed more than 20 years ago, near the end of the bridge’s expected 30-year lifespan. It has undergone multiple studies, including a 2010 environmental impact statement that ran to more than 3,000 pages. That study was evaluated by 18 federal agencies, 11 state agencies and 14 local governments or agencies, according to court records.

The environmental groups sued to stop the project in July 2011. More than two years of dueling paperwork later, a U.S. District Court judge sided with the state in mid-September. That prompted the SELC to counter with an appeal Oct. 1.

The SELC filed a separate petition with state officials in August contending that the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources should not have issued a permit last year to the highway department to build a new bridge. The arguments are essentially the same as in the federal case.

The state case is in the discovery phase, where both sides are sharing evidence, said Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Justice. No date has been set for a trial before an administrative law judge, she said. The Office of Administrative Hearings hears cases where people challenge actions of state agencies, among other things.

The longer-bridge idea isn’t new. Many state and local officials a decade ago also supported a longer bridge, from the northern shore of Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe, Dare County Commissioner Allen Burrus said.

But environmental concerns pushed the bridge route farther out into the Pamlico Sound, and the cost rose exponentially, he said.

“It became a nightmare,” he said.

A quieter announcement came Thursday as emergency ferries shuttled back and forth and plans were made to ship equipment and supplies to the ailing Bonner Bridge.

The state awarded a $79.7 million contract to build a 2.1-mile bridge on N.C. 12 over the new inlet north of Rodanthe that Hurricane Irene formed in 2011. The bridge would be built alongside an existing temporary one and not disrupt traffic, according to a news release.

The replacement would open in spring 2016.

The SELC had no comment on that bridge.

Jeff Hampton, 252-338-0159,

NCDOT closes Outer Banks bridge; repairs, emergency ferries next

Bonner Bridge  NCDOT


By Bruce Siceloff The_News_and_Observer

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comDecember 3, 2013


Citing safety concerns, the state Department of Transportation said Tuesday it has closed Bonner Bridge, which carries N.C. 12 over Oregon Inlet, after finding new evidence of erosion around the bridge supports.

Emergency ferry service is expected to start Wednesday to provide a link to the mainland for tourists and residents of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. The Outer Banks bridge could remain closed for as long as 90 days until repairs are completed.

“Closing the Bonner Bridge is necessary to keep all travelers safe, but we know it will have a devastating effect on the people who live along and visit the Outer Banks,” Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said in a news release. “We will work to safely reopen this vital lifeline quickly, and hope to be able to begin construction on a new bridge as soon as possible.”

The bridge erosion occurs as the inlet migrates naturally toward the south. DOT spent $1.8 million a year ago for scour protection repairs on the 50-year-old bridge, in an area close to the bridge supports that recently were found to be undermined by new scouring. The repair crews placed rock-filled baskets on the bottom of the inlet between the bridge supports, and putting sandbags around the pilings.

Legal challenges have prevented DOT from breaking ground on a $215.8 million contract, awarded in 2011, to replace Bonner Bridge with a new 2.8-mile bridge across Oregon Inlet.

DOT is posting bridge updates on its N.C. 12 Facebook page.

Read more here:


NCDOT Starts Moving on Strategic Mobility Formula Priorities

From the Crosstown Traffic Blog News & Observer

NCDOT starts moving on Strategic Mobility Formula priorities

Submitted by BruceSiceloff on 07/12/2013 – 06:47

Tags: Crosstown Traffic | N.C. Board of Transportation | NCDOT | Strategic Mobility Formula | transportation money

When the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory approved the Strategic Mobility Formula, a sweeping new change in state guidelines for distributing transportation construction dollars, they left it up to the state Department of Transportation to work out a lot of important details. The big plan is to make this a largely “data-driven” process, and to link transportation infrastructure projects with jobs and economic development.

The state Board of Transportation, most of its members McCrory appointees, got its first formal look Thursday at DOT recommendations for criteria and weighting that will be used to score new road projects — and capital projects for transit, aviation, ferry and rail improvements. (See 6/24/13 Road Worrier column with reader comments.)

DOT leaders plan to make changes in recommendations that were developed over the past several months by a statewide advisory workgroup. This is complicated stuff, but it will be important in determining how future leaders spend limited transportation dollars.

The transportation board and NCDOT will report their recommendations to a legislative oversight committee in August, with updates to follow in October. DOT leaders hope to start using the new criteria next year to evaluate future projects. They won’t change their evaluation of old projects already in the pipeline.

Attached below are two documents handed out, and given only a brief public discussion, at Thursday’s board meeting (plus a more detailed June meeting handout on the Strategic Mobility Formula). They show the recommendations developed over the past several months by a statewide workgroup of city and rural officials and transportation planners. Board members said they want to make some changes before they present their plan to legislators in August.

As provided in McCrory’s Strategic Mobility Formula, transportation dollars will be doled out at three levels: 40 percent for statewide projects, 30 percent in each of seven regions, weighted according to population, and 30 percent divided equally among DOT’s 14 divisions.

Statewide project spending will be 100 percent data-driven. The DOT workgroup recommended weighting the evaluation of road projects this way: (1) travel time benefits compared to overall project cost (30 percent of total score), congestion reduction (30 percent), economic competitiveness (10 percent), safety (10 percent), and “multi-modal (& freight + military)” (20 percent). Those terms are defined on one of the documents below.

There are different criteria for other spending levels.

Regional spending would be 70 percent data-driven, with 30 percent of the decision based on “local input.” It turns out that NCDOT defines local input as half coming from local elected leaders, and half coming from NCDOT division engineers. Division spending would be 50 percent data-driven and 50 percent “local input,” again giving NCDOT administrators half of the vote in that “local input” category.

Note that the workgroup assigned only a 10 percent weight to “economic competitiveness,” a category defined to cover two things: increasing productivity by reducing travel times, and creating jobs. Board member Mike Smith of Raleigh said he hoped to change the definition for “economic competitiveness,” but he didn’t say how.

“Economic competitiveness” is a phrase often on the lips of McCrory and other elected officials. DOT leaders want to give it a bigger weight in the formula, boosting it to 15 or 20 percent. “We would like to see some expansion of that as a weighting,” said Ned Curran of Charlotte, the board chairman. They want to reduce the weight given to congestion reduction and travel-time improvements. And they want to test the formula by plugging it into a couple of projects, just to see how it would grade them. (How will NCDOT rate the economic competitiveness of the troubled Garden Parkway toll project, predicted in an earlier NCDOT study to cause a net loss of jobs in the area? Stay tuned.)

Board members broke into small groups Wednesday to talk about the Strategic Mobility Formula in closed meetings. They didn’t talk much in Thursday’s public meeting.

Since the transportation board no longer has the power to approve road projects, it is by setting the evaluation criteria that board members will have their greatest impact on such decisions.

After the meeting I asked Curran if he would make sure to have all future discussions take place in open meetings, so the public could learn how these important decisions are made.

Curran sought to justify the privacy of small-group board discussions where the subject is “nuts and bolts” detail — rather than formal policy decisions, which are to be made in public. Late Thursday NCDOT said the board will discuss the Strategic Mobility Formula prioritization at a public meeting July 23. There was no indication that the board wants to have a direct conversation with members of the statewide workgroup that developed the “economic competitiveness” and other recommendations over the past few months.

Documents: dotWorkgroup201307Rec Scoring Criteria_Wts for BOT_Rail Rev Normalization.doc

dotWorkgroup201307Briefing Materials For BOT Regarding SMF Project Selection Criteria.doc dot201306VoelkerSPOT.pdf

NCDOT starts moving on Strategic Mobility Formula priorities The News and Observer  Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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UNCTV Legislative Week In Review 6.28.13

Program: Legislative Week in Review

Episode: June 28, 2013

This week’s show follows House debate in requiring middle school teachers to teach 7th and 8th graders that abortions are a risk factor for future pre-term births.  The state’s highway funding formula is changing to make road construction more fair, according to supporters.  Rep. William Brawley discusses.  Barry Smith of the Carolina Journal talks budget and tax reform.  Kelly McCullen hosts.

           3:30 into video starts discussion on transportation changes.

Commentator-The old way:  A powerful Senator pointed his finger and got a bridge built.  OUT WITH THE OLD!!!

N.C. Gov. Celebrates Transportation Money Overhaul

By Gary D. Robertson The Associated Press
© June 26, 2013


A confident Gov. Pat McCrory Wednesday earned two victories Wednesday — first by signing transportation funding formula changes into law and second by receiving initial House support to shift many Commerce Department duties to an outside group.

House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger and other lawmakers stood behind the governor — all Republicans — in the old House chamber on the 1840 Capitol building as he made official the “Strategic Mobility Formula.”

The transportation effort retools the recipe for how $1.5 billion in state and federal highway funds get spent annually by emphasizing regional and statewide projects that will ease congestion and promote economic growth, he said.

McCrory said he’s also working with legislators to get to his desk before this year’s session ends in a few weeks changes to the State Personnel Act and Medicaid as well as expanding efforts for oil and natural gas exploration off the Atlantic coast and inland.

“This may be the first major reform signed into law but I promise you it won’t be the last,” McCrory told the group watching him at the signing ceremony. “We’re working on many others … we’re all looking out for the future of North Carolina.”

Later Wednesday, the House gave tentative approval to McCrory-backed legislation to begin the process to shift department responsibilities for travel and tourism, international trade and economic recruitment to the yet-created private nonprofit corporation. McCrory has said the proposed North Carolina Economic Development Partnership would make the state more nimble in recruiting businesses and help create a long statewide economic plan.

The current Highway Trust fund formula distributes money equally among the state’s 14 transportation divisions. McCrory said during his gubernatorial campaigns the formula punished metropolitan areas because large projects siphoned away most of their funds.

The formula approved Wednesday distributes 40 percent of trust fund and federal aid money to statewide projects and 30 percent each to regional and division projects. Potential projects will be ranked on a scoring system. The needs of regional and local transportation governing bodies also will be taken into account.

The state Department of Transportation estimates the rewrite, to be fully implemented in 2015, will result in nearly 50 percent more projects over the next 10 years compared to the current plan. The projects will generate more than 240,000 jobs over those 10 years, compared to 174,000 jobs with the current system. This will occur even as state officials predict transportation revenue will decline by $1.7 billion over the next 10 years.

Despite initial concerns from rural legislators, the funding formula ultimately received near unanimous, bipartisan support from the House and Senate.

“When we set about this, I really anticipated a long, hard road in the legislature,” Tillis said, but “it’s a plan that very clearly creates more opportunities for more roads sooner everywhere across the state.”

House members aren’t as sold on the commerce bill, which was approved by a vote of 76-38. Most Democrats voted against the bill, some of whom said the measure is being rushed and ends state support for regional economic development commissions in January.

“The authority and the power need to not reside in exclusively in Raleigh,” said Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood.

Republicans largely backed the governor’s plan. Some of them said the state and regional commissions haven’t been able to respond quickly enough to economic opportunities and have lost out to other states.

“We have got to find new ways and do things differently in the state of North Caroilna,” said Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee.

Still, eight Republicans voted no, some of whom said they were worried about the role of the nonprofit corporation on tax breaks or credits companies would receive from the state. A 15-member governing board for the corporation would make recommendations to state officials about which companies should receive incentives, raising conflict-of-interest concerns.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker told legislators last week that public officials would have the final decision on incentives and that there would be a “firewall” with the private nonprofit, whose leaders would be subject to laws against self-dealing.

A final House vote could come Thursday before the bill returns to the Senate. The Senate was also expected Thursday to debate and vote on McCrory’s personnel proposal. The bill would shorten the grievance process for state employees and let McCrory hire more at-will workers.

Tillis Cannot Honor Vow

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Funding for the Mid-Currituck Bridge once hung on a powerful lawmaker’s promise, but that vow has now evaporated, local officials say.

Now-retired state Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, often referred to a promise Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis made Owens his last year in office. Paul O’Neal, chairman of the Currituck Board of Commissioners, said he, too, witnessed that promise.

Both recalled hearing Tillis. R-Mecklenburg, promise to preserve “gap funds” needed to supplement construction costs for the proposed $660 million bridge linking Currituck’s mainland to the Outer Banks.

But last week, Tillis reportedly told a delegation of bridge supporters from Currituck and Dare counties he could no longer keep that vow nor would they want him to keep it.

With new plans to run against U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C, in 2014, Tillis could only hold off the inevitable for his final year in office, Tillis reportedly told the group. Once Tillis was gone, opponents to the toll-road project would be free to cut the funds anyway, he said.

Tillis reportedly said the bridge had a better chance of being funded under Gov. Pat McCrory’s new transportation projects funding plan.

Tillis could not be reached Friday to comment on what was said in his Raleigh office.

But on Friday, Currituck commissioners agreed that “gap funds” for the bridge are gone despite earlier assurances the money would be there.

Before leaving office in 2010, then-powerful Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, had won General Assembly approval for $28 million a year in gap funds for what was to be the state’s first public-private partnership. The gap funds would keep down the cost of tolls on the privately built and maintained seven-mile span across the Currituck Sound.

With Basnight gone and a new GOP majority in charge in 2011, however, funding for the bridge fell under closer scrutiny and opposition just as the project neared final approval.

Now Currituck commissioners say the bridge’s fate will rest with the new transportation projects funding formula. Three commissioners at the meeting Thursday had mixed reactions about how that may impact the project.

O’Neal said Tillis was very positive about the bridge’s prospects under the new system.

“I can only rely on what those that make the decisions tell me … and if what they are telling us is true, I would say the bridge will be built,” said O’Neal.

O’Neal said the latest setback is one in a series of difficulties the project has faced over decades.

“The last 30 years, it’s been pretty darn difficult, and I don’t know how it can get any more difficult,” he said.

Commissioner Paul Martin said Tillis appeared positive about the bridge’s chances for funding under the new transportation projects funding plan. Supporters will know more once the N.C. Department of Transportation scores projects using the new formula, he said.

“It’s still in the running. (The General Assembly) budget pulled the gap funding, but with the new way they are going to fund roads and everything, we can compete,” said Martin.

Commissioner Butch Petrey was less optimistic about the turn of events.

“The gap funding is no longer and we are going to have to be pitted against other road projects, and we don’t have that much control over our destiny,” said Petrey.

N.C. Highway 12 in Cape Hatteras will also be in the competition for funding, he said.

“It’s a bigger need than our bridge, obviously,” said Petrey.

He said Basnight did the bridge no favor by waiting until his last year in office to push for funding. Now the bridge faces opposition from powerful members of the state Senate, including Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick.

With so much working against the Mid-Currituck Bridge, “I don’t see it happening anytime soon,” said Petrey.

Turnpike Projects Removed From NC House Bill

Published: May 7, 2013

The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Three contentious turnpike projects are no longer included in Gov. Pat McCrory’s transportation overhaul.

The House Appropriations Committee adopted a new version of the bill Tuesday that removed the Cape Fear Skyway, the Garden Parkway and the Mid-Currituck Bridge from the plan. The projects had been added by a previous committee over the objections of lawmakers who said their inclusion would doom the bill in the Senate and defeat the purpose of taking politics out of transportation decisions.

Bill sponsor Bill Brawley of Matthews said members later opposed the addition after finding the language gave preferential treatment to the Mid-Currituck Bridge.

An amendment passed Tuesday shifts about $1.5 billion in additional funding over 10 years to individual transportation divisions from regional projects to help get the support of rural lawmakers.

Read more here:


Bridge May Have to Compete For Funds

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Thursday, March 28, 2013

CURRITUCK — If the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge loses state “gap funds,” the $660 million project may have to compete with other road projects in the region for funding.

To nab construction dollars, the bridge would have to rank high among top-priority highway projects under the state transportation department’s Transportation Improvement Program.

The project’s chances of being funded would depend on several factors, said Don Voelker, the Department of Transportation’s director of strategic prioritization.

Road congestion counts for 20 percent of a project’s score. The higher the traffic count, the higher the project scores. Improving road safety counts another 10 percent. The state looks at crash rates on the highway; the more accidents, the higher the points. Road conditions, time savings for drivers, and economic benefits to the region are factored as well.

One big chunk of the score depends on local support. Ranking by the Albemarle Rural Planning Organization and DOT’s Division 1 staff would comprise 30 percent of the project’s score.

Matt Wood, former member of the state Board of Transportation, said the Mid-Currituck Bridge would have no problem scoring high in local support.

Exactly how the Mid-Currituck Bridge might score in other areas is unknown, said Voelker. It’s never been run through the state formula because “gap funds” were appropriated by the General Assembly to cover its costs, he said.

Existing plans for financing the bridge call for private investors to build and maintain the bridge. State lawmakers have agreed to contribute up to $28 million over the next 30 years to offset construction costs as a way of keeping tolls on the bridge from going too high.

Proposed legislation that would eliminate those gap funds could change the bridge’s funding options, however.

Some critics of the Mid-Currituck Bridge and other specially funded toll-road projects say the projects should have to compete for state dollars like all other road projects. New DOT Secretary Anthony Tata said he also favors the change. Cutting out the gap funds will require full approval by the General Assembly. So far, only the Senate has signed off on the change.

State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, said Tata has assured him the switch would not end chances the seven-mile span linking Currituck’s mainland to the Outer Banks would be constructed.

Steinburg said he was told by Tata the project would rank high under the state DOT’s prioritization system.

Wood said the score could depend on how much funding the project will seek in TIP funds. Building the entire project with TIP funds would be impossible, he said.

The entire budget for the 14-county Division 1 is $600 million over seven years. The bridge alone would consume that entire budget unless it remains a toll road as originally proposed, Wood said. The state’s pay-as-you-go funding system alone doesn’t have enough up-front cash to pay for the construction project, he said.

The largest project currently funded under the TIP is the Bonner Bridge replacement at an estimated cost of $215 million, said DOT’s Division 1 Engineer Jerry Jennings.

The Mid-Currituck Bridge might have a chance if it were to remain a toll-road project with private investors paying for construction, Wood said. In that case, the TIP would need to pay the gap funds rather than the full construction cost.

That unconventional approach would probably require a law change, he added.

Even if the project were to make top priority, construction could be several years away. Under the existing system, new projects have a five-year waiting list.

Projects already funded for construction over the next five years go first. While awaiting funding, new top-scoring projects compete every two years for their rankings.

Steinburg said Tata never mentioned how soon the bridge might be constructed under the TIP.

Steinburg said he would vote to keep gap funds because construction is likely to start sooner under the existing set-up.

If the bridge was added to the state’s new priorities, it would be competing with several other yet-unfunded projects. Also awaiting funding in Division 1 are widening projects along U.S. Highway 158 in several counties, including “Short Cut Road” in Camden and Currituck counties and a section near Morgan’s Corner in Pasquotank County.

Already funded projects — including the widening of U.S. 158 in central Camden and the Camden Causeway Bridge and road improvements in Pasquotank County — are already locked in for continued funding.

Funding for the Mid-Currituck Bridge with state mobility funds may be another option, although apparently unlikely. The separate pool of money was created in 2010 to ease traffic congestion in urban areas.

In 2011, the entire project, estimated at that time to cost $550,000, was run through the mobility fund’s formula, which is different from the TIP formula. With a ranking of 74 out of 95 projects, the bridge project as proposed would not likely be funded, said Voelker.

The mobility fund weighs heavily in favor of metropolitan areas, Currituck County Manager Dan Scanlon said in a recent report. Top-scoring projects in 2011 came from Mecklenburg, Wake, Orange and Durham counties.