NC transportation agency releases funding blueprint through 2025, promises more projects

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina's first transportation funding blueprint based on new standards was unveiled Thursday, promising money for hundreds of additional projects for the next decade, many of which would have otherwise been delayed for years.

The draft State Transportation Improvement Program presented to the Board of Transportation and Gov. Pat McCrory in part lays out $15 billion of spending through 2025 on more than 550 road construction, aviation and public transit and walkway projects through 2025.

Over half of the 1,073 projects on the complete program list were scored through a new method laid out in a bipartisan 2013 law approved by the General Assembly and signed by McCrory. Other projects making the list largely include bridges, interstate maintenance and projects with contracts that already were expected to go out for bid before next July.

DOT officials say the list includes projects that may not have made the cut under the old rules, such as the Mid-Currituck Bridge toll project, connecting the northern Outer Banks with the mainland and ultimately Virginia's Hampton Roads. The state also would complete the outer loop around Fayetteville to link Fort Bragg traffic with Interstate 95, as well as more quickly construct Winston-Salem's Northern Beltway and widen I-26 south of Asheville toward South Carolina.

Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said the new formula would generate 478 highway projects, compared to 175 laid out under the program list in 2013 and 260 projects initially predicted from the new law. Economic models also estimate the projects in the draft plan would create 300,000 jobs beyond the actual construction, compared to 174,000 under the 2013 draft plan.

The new Strategic Mobility Formula took a more data-centered approach that graded projects based on their significance to the state, region and each of the state's 14 transportation divisions. The formula concentrates more on easing congestion and jumpstarting regional economies while also giving weight to the desires of local officials.

While the program now has $200 million more earmarked annually, Tata said more projects are being added because the state is becoming more efficient with its road building funds.

"This puts money on the street, where the needs are, right away," Tata said in an interview.

The old formula, created in the late 1980s, disbursed funds in a way that many said punished areas that need to build a big interstate project. Critics in urban areas — among them McCrory while Charlotte's mayor — said the formula favored less-populated areas and those with the best political connections.

"I'm pleased that the transportation law and vision, which is based on economic development, safety and congestion instead of politics, is working as intended and exceeding our expectations," McCrory said in a written statement.

The governor told board members the new funding priority method aims to relieve highway corridor "choke points" between economic centers that slows traffic and discourages out-of-state companies from wanting to relocate in both urban and rural areas.

This latest blueprint now goes through a public comment period in March and April before the board's final approval in June.

The fate of the 7-mile Mid-Currituck project had been uncertain after the Republican-led General Assembly last year eliminated an earlier mandate in state law that it be built. Project boosters said it was needed to ease gridlock on U.S. 158 to and from Tidewater Virginia in the summer and evacuate visitors to the mainland as hurricanes approached.

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