04/08/10 — County opposes highway funding changes

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County opposes highway funding changes

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 8, 2010 1:46 PM

Eastern and western North Carolina will suffer if efforts are successful to base highway funding on population and reduction of traffic congestion, Wayne County commissioners say.

A resolution in opposition to the proposed changes in state highway funding was approved Tuesday morning by commissioners and was hand delivered that afternoon by Chairman Jack Best to the state legislative commission charged with studying how the state divides highway money.

The proposed changes would benefit metropolitan area such as Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro, but at the expense of areas like Wayne County, commissioners said.

Concentrating the funding in the large population centers would be self-perpetuating because the better the roads, the more growth and congestion, and hence the need for even more roads, they argue.

The joint legislative study commission was formed in February of last year and House Bill 1578 was filed in May by Rep. John Blust of Greensboro. The bill, which would alter the funding formula, passed its first reading and was referred to the Committee on Transportation before the session ended.

County Manager Lee Smith told commissioners Tuesday morning that the current equity funding formula leaves much to be desired. However, the proposed changes would deprive some areas of the roads that are vital to economic development and growth, he said.

Commissioners also sought to tie roads, particularly U.S. 70, to national security and the ability to quickly move forces from the east's military installations.

The resolution offers is own recommendation for revamping the formula. It urges the state to increase funding to designated regions "to expedite completion of projects in the intrastate road system to protect the economic viability of local, regional and statewide commerce and military operations safeguarding American freedom and appropriate those monies specifically to those projects."

Commissioners pointed out in their resolution that a new four-lane U.S. 70 between Raleigh and Morehead City has been identified as a project of the intrastate system. That includes bypasses at Clayton, Goldsboro, Kinston, Smithfield-Selma and Havelock.

The resolution also seeks to add the North Carteret and Beaufort bypasses to the intrastate system.

The Clayton Bypass has been completed and work is under way on the first section of the Goldsboro Bypass that will be built in four phases. At present, no funds have been appropriated to complete the project.

Commissioner Steve Keen made the motion to adopt the resolution that was approved by a unanimous vote.

Best did not speak during the Tuesday afternoon Transportation Oversight Committee session in Raleigh. Rather, the presentation was made by U.S. 70 Highway Commission Chairman Tom Steepy of Carteret County. Wayne County is a member of the commission that formed to lobby for the U.S. 70 project. The commission is not officially sanctioned by the state and is a cooperative effort of counties through which U.S. 70 passes through.

"They (legislators) have got to realize if they do it all by population then the bigger cities will get a bigger portion of the money and the rest of the state will not get anything," Best said.

Best said commission members listened and told the speakers they appreciated their comments and would take them into consideration.

Currently, the equity formula that distributes funds from the Highway Trust Fund takes into account population, intrastate mileage to be completed and Department of Transportation division allocations. Blust's bill would allow the secretary of transportation to transfer the funds based on population or congestion and to revise the Highway Trust Fund allocation.

According to the bill, transfers made for the purpose of mitigating or reducing congestion would be made on the basis of either:

* The ratio that the population of the county or counties in which the project is located bears to the state's total population.

* The need for reducing congestion on a roadway based on statewide ranking of projects determined by taking the average daily volume of vehicles divided by the design capacity and then multiplied by the accident rate of the facility divided by the statewide average accident rate for facilities of this type.