Today in North Carolina

McCrory bucks status quo

April 27, 2013 

— If the devil is in the details, then the saints might reside in the general principles that Gov. Pat McCrory has put forward for revising how the state spends road dollars.

Earlier this month, McCrory unveiled a plan that would place more importance on road-building projects that have statewide significance, lessening the influence of a regional distribution formula that has been in place since 1989.

It is hard to argue that the current manner in which North Carolina distributes road dollars is working well.

Drive around Charlotte or through Union County toward Charlotte near rush hour and you are likely to agree that something needs to change. Drive toward Camp Lejeune, even with some recent improvements, and you also might have some different ideas about how the state might better build its roads.

Given those kinds of experiences around the state, McCrory’s call for change met with enthusiasm from a number of people and groups, including the North Carolina Chamber.

The plan, outlined by his transportation secretary, Tony Tata, would have projects compete for dollars based, in part, on the collection of data.

Funding would fall into three categories – statewide, regional and local. Projects of statewide importance that address traffic congestion would receive 40 percent of available revenue, or about $6.4 billion over the next 10 years.

Another 40 percent would go toward projects in seven regions. Within those regions, projects would again compete, with data determining 70 percent of the rankings and 30 percent based on local rankings of projects.

The remaining 20 percent of transportation dollars would flow to sub-regions, 14 of them in all.

The McCrory administration says the change – which legislators will have to approve – will put about $200 million more each year into bigger road projects.

Tata estimates the new plan would pay for at least 260 projects statewide in the next 10 years, about 85 more than the 175 in the DOT’s current 10-year plan.

McCrory touts the plan as a way to take politics out of road building, alleviate congestion and attract industry and jobs.

That doesn’t mean everyone is going to like it.

If the change creates winners, then it will certainly create losers, and rural areas are the most likely places to see fewer transportation dollars as a result of the changes.

By distributing fewer dollars regionally and more on a statewide basis, the McCrory administration will also need to make the case that the process is actually driven by traffic-related data.

Otherwise, the change has the potential to be seen as more political, not less.

McCrory has said those who are “satisfied with the status quo” will be the toughest to sell on the plan.

Probably so.

It is easy to be satisfied with the status quo when it means getting home from work quickly or making a fast trip to the beach. Being trapped in traffic day after day makes for a lot less satisfaction with the status quo.

Scott Mooneyham is a syndicated columnist who writes about state government and politics.

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