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Eastern leaders agree to work together to protect state highway funding

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 20, 2012 1:50 AM

Potential threats to the state's highway funding formula and the need for eastern North Carolina to present a united front on road projects dominated discussion at Thursday's meeting of the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission.

The current state formula for distributing highway money calls for equity among regions of the state. Eastern officials fear tinkering with that formula would mean less money for roads in their region.

"Make no mistake about it, there's going to be an effort to change the equity formula," Commission Director Durwood Stephenson said at the meeting held at Goldsboro City Hall.

Stephenson said that at a recent meeting with legislators, he was told that House Speaker Thom Tillis had promised "to his folks" that the formula would be changed. Tillis represents the Charlotte area. The lawmakers said Tillis told them the issue wouldn't come up in the current session because of time constraints.

"The real reason is that he doesn't have the votes," Stephenson said. "But after November, he will have the votes. So we need to be diligent. What they recommended to me, 'Change is inevitable. How bad you get hurt depends on what kind of plan.' They said, 'Come with an alternate plan.'"

Legislators said they would support that plan and start "trying to sell it," he said. Members suggested the need to have a proposal ready by the end of the year. Some suggested it was needed by September -- prior to the election.

It is important to recognize the hierarchy of roads, said Thomas Bradshaw, North Carolina's interim statewide logistics coordinator, whose duties include overseeing all operations of the state ports and the Global TransPark.

"Think outside of just location," Bradshaw said. "Think about how you are serving a network, because a network has got to have a higher priority than perhaps a certain road in Wake County."

Members agreed to begin working to draft a plan.

In other business, members were briefed on the progress of the U.S. 70 Goldsboro Bypass, plans for the Hampstead Bypass, improvements to U.S. 17, rail and other transportation projects in the eastern part of the state.

The Hampstead Bypass and U.S. 17 are among regional projects being supported by seven area Metropolitan and Rural Planning Organizations.

The group was told that the first leg of the Goldsboro Bypass opened in December and the contract for the eastern section has been let. The contract for the western section will be let in June. With the highway scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Wayne County Commissioner and Goldsboro MPO member Jack Best briefed members about a recent joint meeting of seven RPOs and MPOs in eastern North Carolina. He said the group concluded it needed to work together to develop priority projects. He said members were keenly aware of the need to connect military bases with ports, the GTP and the medical centers. The meeting results were so well-received that the remaining MPOs and RPOs in eastern North Carolina asked if they could get in, Best said. A meeting was held last Friday of all of the organizations, along with several legislators, he said.

"What we came away with is, No. 1, legislators absolutely had to form a coalition or caucus, as they call it, to get together to hold eastern North Carolina's projects together," Best said. "Without that, the money was certainly going west with the population explosion in Raleigh, the Triad and Charlotte."