08/18/09 — Reduced highway funding could shift completion dates

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Reduced highway funding could shift completion dates

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 18, 2009 1:46 PM

A decline in available state transportation funding has bumped several local highway projects, including the eastern and final section of the planned U.S. 70 Bypass and Interstate 795 South, past the year 2035 -- and there is no indication that there is any relief in sight.

The scarcity of funds could force local officials to look closer to home for alternate funding sources to ensure smaller projects are done, said Alison Fluitt, a consultant with Kimley-Horn, to members of the Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Ms. Fluitt and fellow consultant Jonathan Whitehurst last week briefed MPO members about progress on the update to the MPO's long-range transportation plan.

"The 2004-2010 state Transportation Improve-ment Plan had in place during the last update $124 million committed in the area," she said. "The 2009-2015 plan has $61 million. It is less than half.

"Goldsboro is not alone in this. Unfortunately, it is a statewide, nationwide type of thing. Transportation funding is becoming harder and harder to get. As a result of that, we had to go back and take a critical look at what we are actually recommending and what may actually make it within the financially constrained 2035 horizon year."

The long-range transportation plan update is federally mandated every five years and the comprehensive transportation plan update is required by the state.

The plan includes a series of maps showing the recommendations for the different modes of transportation that hopefully would be implemented at some point, she said. Goldsboro, Walnut Creek, which is included in the MPO, and the county approve the plan and use it as a guide.

The process got under way in March and included public workshops in April, June and July to gather public input.

The plan looks at transportation on two fronts -- the first is short range, what can be afforded by 2020. The second is further out, 2035.

"Obviously we are going to continue the portion of U.S. 70 that is already under construction and get that finished up in that time frame," Ms. Fluitt said. "We also would like to go ahead and move on right of way on neighboring sections of U.S. 70. Right-of-way protection is obviously going to be something that is important as we move forward with the U.S. 70 corridor.

"The Goldsboro computerized signal system already is in the TIP and will be implemented within the next year or two. Berkeley Boulevard (widening) there is actually partial funding available for that in the TIP right now to reserve right of way. We would like to move forward on that and hopefully move forward with construction on that road. This from a roadway perspective we think that we can truly afford in 2020."

Ms. Fluitt said consultants think they can get two more sections of the U.S. 70 Bypass built.

"We don't actually have all of the U.S. 70 Bypass in our financially constrained plan," she said. "There is one section, the eastern most section that is not contained within this plan."

Other future projects include U.S. 70 Bypass between N.C. 581 and Salem Church Road, U.S. 70 Bypass between Wayne Memorial Drive and Parkstown Road, Berkeley Boulevard from New Hope Road to Hood Swamp Road, New Hope Road from Wayne Memorial Drive to Millers Chapel Road, Ash Street from U.S. 117 to Virginia Street and Spence Avenue from Elm Street to Ash Street.

The idea is to support growth in the northern part of the county by completing key arterial projects, she said.

Projects that have slipped off list from 2030 to 2035 because of the reduced funding include the final section of U.S. 70, I-795 South, portions of New Hope Road, U.S. 13 and Wayne Memorial Drive.

To help ensure an equitable distribution of projects and to get things out there to be implemented there will be a need to focus on access management and spot safety improvements that the public has indicated are important to them, she said.

"As we have major safety problems at our intersections let's go ahead and get them addressed," Ms. Fluitt said.

To accomplish that, there will be a need to look at establishing annual funding at the municipal or county level.

"I am not talking about a huge funding source," she said. "We assumed in the plan about a $150,000 a year, not increasing, annually through 2035. "That could be used for what we are envisioning here for a high-crash intersections."

It could possibly be used as a match to get more state or federal funds.

The county also must look at potential alternate funding sources that might people be amicable to, she said. That could range from toll roads to sales tax to impact fees.

MPO Chairman Chuck Allen said that a local sales tax is one thing in Raleigh or Charlotte, but "it would be a hard deal to do that here."

"The other thing I see that really concerns me (is that) I see no money coming down the pike for any of these local projects of any degree. I really believe the city and the county are going to have do something like a bond issue or have to come up with our own mechanism to start funding some of these local projects because if we wait on DOT to do Central Heights or whatever it isn't. I see us with having to come up with our own local funds."

Allen said he liked the idea of spot safety projects.

"We do have some intersections where $200,000 would make a difference," he said

Commissioner Steve Keen questioned the decision to complete the western portions of the U.S. 70 Bypass instead of the eastern section that will tie into Lenoir County. Keen said the county needs to be in a position to benefit from the $600 million Spirit Aviation locating at the Global TransPark at Kinston and the $200 million Sanderson project.

Ms. Fluitt said planners determined the northern Wayne area took precedence, but that the issue could be revisited.

She added there also is less traffic volume on the eastern part of U.S. 70, while the western side has more congestion and that is likely to get worse.

"One of the biggest problems is that people say they don't want to change. I want to leave it like it is," Commissioner Andy Ander-son said. "Somehow we have got to convince the public that it may work for you right now, but your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the way population is growing and traffic is growing, if we don't do something, they are going to have a miserable life."