June 30, 2014
DOT's new plan for funding projects makes
it hard for rural areas to compete
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
who want to understand what projects the state Department of
Transportation is proposing to fund or not fund under its new Strategic
Mobility Formula might need to first hone their mastery of puzzles and
residents of northeastern North Carolina may miss in NCDOT’s
unfathomable document posted online for review is that most – if not
all - of the proposed transportation projects in Highway Division One
that includes Dare, Hyde, and Currituck counties, rank low in
priority – including the Mid-Currituck Bridge, the Alligator River
bridge and widening US. 64 - and that the division’s guaranteed dollars
are a sliver of its prior funding.
fact, as the plan looks now, few major projects in the Northeast are
likely to be built any time in the near future. Nearly 50 percent of
total state transportation funds are slated for Division Five, which
includes Wake County.
priorities in the Mobility Formula focused mostly on factors like
year-round traffic congestion and population density, projects in less
populated areas are buried under the crowded urban regions’ pile of
Board of Transportation is keenly aware of a whole-state philosophy,”
said Malcolm Fearing, a Manteo resident who represents Division One on
the board. “We are addressing and already looking at the rural and
urban nature of our state. The question is: How do we fund it?”
said there is about $20 billion available statewide for transportation
projects through 2025, but there is about $70 billion in today’s
dollars worth of projects identified, leaving a $50 billion shortfall.
it’s not like the northeast hasn’t gotten a share of the pie, he said.
Currently, about $1 billion in highway projects are scheduled or under
construction in Division One, he said, including work on Hatteras
it comes down to limited future highway funds –at least partly due to
decreased revenue from gas taxes – that need to be applied
strategically, Fearing said, adding that the process will be
re-evaluated after a year.
“We’ll be dealing with a correction,” he said.
it is doubtful that any member of the public will be able to understand
what is at stake from looking at the Strategic Transportation
documents. A mix of incomprehensible spreadsheets interspersed
with indecipherable charts, unwieldy maps and confusing text, the
information fails to make sense of the multi-layered, data-dense,
fragmented and wholly head-spinning complexity of a process that is
supposed to foster efficiency and revitalize communities.
public workshops were scheduled within the division for the public to
give input, and comments will be taken into consideration in drafting the
State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, said division
planning engineer Gretchen Byrum. The STIP provides schedule and
funding details on projects.
the meeting held on Thursday, June 26, in Winton, Byrum said only one
official from Hertford County attended the 3-hour open house. Another
workshop is scheduled in Edenton for tomorrow -- Tuesday, July 1.
Public comments will be accepted through July 23.
previous budget years, according to DOT, Division One received $85
million to $120 million per year. Under the new prioritizing system,
the division is guaranteed $27 million per year.
much of the funding formula weighted in favor of high population
regions, it appears that areas with fewer people qualify for fewer
my personal opinion, it’s one of the worst things that has happened to
rural North Carolina,” said Stan White, a former member for 10 years of
the state Board of Transportation who is running to regain his District
1 senate seat from state Sen. Bill Cook.
who is from Nags Head, said that whether it’s the mountains or the
coast, residents’ roads and bridges deserve to be as safe as
those in traffic-plagued Charlotte and Raleigh.
say that their problems (in Charlotte or Raleigh) are more important
than taxpayers in rural areas,” he said, “that’s what gets me.”
in 2013, the Strategic Transportation Investments Law created a new
formula for allocating funds that scored projects based on data and
local input. The process will “maximize North Carolina’s
existing transportation funding to enhance the state’s infrastructure
and support economic growth, job creation and high quality of life,”
according to the DOT website.
data, the site said, indicates that the state will be able to schedule
196 additional projects over the next 10 years with existing funds.
DOT will move forward with projects let before July 2015, which include
bridges on Highway 12 on Hatteras Island. The Bonner Bridge replacement
project over Oregon Inlet is funded and scheduled, but construction is
stayed pending the outcome of a lawsuit.
said that the Rural Planning Organization, or RPO, and the division are
in the process of prioritizing projects, based on the methodology they
developed. The law bases funding for regional needs on 70 percent from
data and 30 percent from local input, half of that from the RPO – which
is divided in three parts and includes some counties bordering Division
One. The other half of the local input comes from the
until the list of programmed projects is released this fall in the
draft STIP will it be clear how the ferries have fared, Byrum said
One has to compete against Division Four for projects. But when one of
the top point-getters are congestion and truck traffic, the division
that includes Rocky Mount and Tarboro is bound to win more points than
farming and fishing communities.
“It’s really hurt rural areas because they stand very little chance of meeting the criteria,” White said.
for the division needs, the law provides 50 percent of the funds from
data and 50 percent from the RPO and the division, each getting 25
projects in Division One -- Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare,
Gates, Hertford, Hyde, Martin, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans,
Washington and Tyrrell counties -- qualified to be in the statewide
category, which is 100 percent data-driven and includes interstate
highways, routes in the national highway system, toll roads and
highways that are vital to national defense.
projects are not funded in the statewide category will “cascade” down
into the regional category, Byrum explained. And if they don't make
that category, they will move down into the division category.
Somewhere along the process, those projects will have to be
re-prioritized by division engineers.
Byrum agreed that the new formula could be hard to comprehend, she said
that ultimately it is a different way of prioritizing projects that
will be put in the STIP, the standard document that DOT has employed
for years to schedule transportation projects for construction by
Public comment will be open on the draft STIP from December 2014 through May 2015.
supposed to take the local politics out of it, pretty much, and make it
more data-driven,” she said. “It’s so detailed and there are so
many different layers to it. I can see why the public can be confused.”
the new formula, each of the state’s 14 highway divisions is to be
evaluated under three categories: statewide, regional, and division.
Each category, in turn, has been allotted a certain percentage of
available funds under numerous criteria, with highways getting 90
percent of funds, divided by values assigned to the criteria.
For example, here’s what it says about the “Regional Impact Category”:
category will receive 30 percent of available revenue. Projects on this
level compete within regions made up of two NCDOT Transportation
divisions, with funding divided among the regions based on population.
Data makes up 70 percent of the project scores . . . Local rankings
will account for the remaining 30 percent.”
it continues, each of the category’s highway projects are divided in
four criteria, each with a different value: congestion, 25 percent;
benefit/cost, 25 percent; safety, 10 percent;
accessibility/connectivity, 10 percent.
mode of transportation, from rail to bicycle to ferry to road to
bridge, is parsed by rankings, criteria, values, regions, divisions,
modes, U.S. highways, state highways, strategic military interests,
toll routes, municipal and rural planning organizations, statewide
impacts and shared resources.
the categories, modes of transportation, including ferries and bicycle
paths, have a much smaller percentage of value that is calculated
by points assigned to projects by a regional panel.
of the slew of data and analysis provided from the multitude of
sources, division engineers established a draft Project Priority
Ranking based on an application of qualitative points.
projects that scored high in the division, such as the proposed
Mid-Currituck Bridge, did not qualify in the bigger picture.
“It wasn’t competitive statewide,” Byrum said. “Until the law is revised, that project is not meeting the statewide criteria.”
project that the division scored high was completion of N.C. 168 to
Belcross, known by locals as the shortcut to Elizabeth City, and
replacement of the bridge over Alligator River.
some projects scored higher than the division’s score, including
widening of U.S. 158 from Kitty Hawk to Manteo and the midway
intersection in Manteo, neither of which are popular locally.
Whatever is proposed now in the transportation formula, Fearing cautioned, is not written in stone.
“It’s a new process,” he said. “We need to have a greater understanding of it and make adjustments as adjustments are needed.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Link to the Strategic Transportation Improvements Act:
Link to public meetings and public comment: http://www.ncdot.gov/strategictransportationinvestments/PublicMeetings.html
Link to Division One Methodology and Preliminary Scoring: https://connect.ncdot.gov/projects/planning/Pages/ResourcesMPO-RPO.aspx
Link to STI Fact Sheet: https://inside.ncdot.gov/SiteCollectionImages/Lists/NCDOT%20Senior%20