Transportation

Falling Price of Gas Could Impact NCDOT’s Funding for Road Maintenance

CHARLOTTE — The falling price of gas is good news for drivers, but it may affect the roads they use.

The tax paid on gas is spent on road maintenance and construction. So as the gas prices fall, so does the amount of money going into the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Highway Fund.

“For now, we just can’t tell,” said Warren Cooksey, director of outreach and community affairs for NCDOT Division 10.

Cooksey said the early projections don’t look good, but the department won’t know the full effect of the falling gas prices until months from now.

The state’s gas tax has two components. One is a fixed portion.

“So every gallon of gas, regardless of what the price is, will be charged a 17 and a half cent flat rate,” Cooksey explained.

The second part is variable, based on wholesale prices that can be adjusted every six months.

“So any reductions in the price of gas that we are seeing today, won’t show up in the wholesale gas tax until July 1 of next year,” Cooksey said.

However, the law is designed to avoid a worst-case scenario in the short run.

“If the percentage rate goes under a certain level, there’s a flat rate provision in the law to ensure that the tax revenue just doesn’t plunge in a six month period and put a lot of projects at risk,” said Cooksey.

He said the real concern is funding for the long-term. The revenue from the gas tax has been declining for years and will continue to decline in years to come, which will make it even more critical to find alternate ways to fund the state’s highway system.

For now, it’s business as usual for the NCDOT, as the state continues to look for other ways to fill the fund’s tank.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said because of the shrinking gas tax dollars, the state needs to find other revenue sources for highway projects.

He outlined several alternative funding options, like public-private partnerships, in his 24 Year Vision for the state’s transportation infrastructure.

– Caroline Vandergriff

More Projects on Tap With NC Transportation Plan

RALEIGH—North Carolina’s first transportation funding plan using new standards has been unveiled.

The Department of Transportation released the draft State Transportation Improvement Program on Thursday. It proposes $15 billion on road construction, aviation and public transit projects through 2025.

The 10-year proposal uses the state’s new strategic mobility formula, approved in 2013.

The proposal is a hefty one, with more than 1,000 projects dealing with everything from roads, to ferries, to trains, to planes making the cut under North Carolina’s new Strategic Mobility Formula.

This new formula relying on several factors to determine what projects should be funded.

“There is congestion, there’s reduction of travel time, safety, jobs created and then creativity,” said Tony Tata, NC Secretary of Transportation.

The plan promises spending on hundreds of additional projects for the next decade, many of which would have otherwise been delayed, and is expected to create 100,000 additional jobs.

Getting the new formula approved by the legislature and up and running has been one of Gov. Pat McCrory’s top priorities, and accomplishments, since taking office. He says it is one that will prepare the state for the future.

“We’re taking away the chokepoints that block access to rural and urban areas alike to spur economic growth and to create jobs. And we are taking the politics out of transportation, so we are getting a bigger bang for limited dollars,” said Gov. McCrory.

The projects in the proposal vary widely- from completing the Fayetteville Outer Loop to connect Fort Bragg to I-95 to expanding NC 211 to help relieve congestion on the coast during tourist season.

Over 3,100 projects were submitted for consideration in the 10-year plan. Only 18 percent of them made the cut, which meant leaving more than 2,000 potential projects unfunded.

As work continues on the draft, lawmakers who will be providing the funding, say they expect to see few changes to the plan that has now been presented.

“I know there are some things that we probably want to go in there an look and make sure. In other words, trust but verify. So show me why, based on the data, show me why this project didn’t make it,” said Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican.

There will be public comment and hearings on the proposal. The NC Board of Transportation is expected to approve the final plan in June 2015.

– Loretta Boniti 

Gov. McCrory Travels Across NC to Deliver Transportation Vision

WILMINGTON — Gov. Pat McCrory is traveling around the state Wednesday delivering a “25-year vision” of transportation initiatives.

State leaders presented what they’re calling the road map for North Carolina’s future.

Gov. Pat McCrory and transportation secretary Tony Tata are traveling the state unveiling their long-term transportation plan.

They spoke in Wilmington and Greenville Wednesday morning. The governor said the plan is meant to improve safety and congestion, as well as create jobs. McCrory said the plan addresses traveling to and from Charlotte to Wilmington.

The governor said as it stands at the moment it is easier to get from the port in Charleston to Charlotte than from the port in Wilmington.

McCrory said in order for the plan to work, it will be important to consider private-public partnerships and will ask the legislature to approve a $1 billion bond.

“So we can get those projects off the drawing board. They are literally stagnant right now getting cobwebs around them and it’s costing us a lot more money by not building them now and we need to take advantage of the low interest rates now and free up that money as soon as possible,” said McCrory.

The governor said the projects funded by the bond would create between 40,000 and 50,000 jobs.

His trips also include an appearance at Smith-Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem and a stop in Asheville. The governor’s camp said each stop focuses on specific ideas for that area.

– Breanna Walden

NC Senate Modifies Moped Regulation Legislation

RALEIGH—A proposal before state lawmakers dealing with moped regulation in North Carolina made a U-Turn on Wednesday.

The House had stripped a provision in the bill requiring moped drivers to have liability insurance, but the Senate added that back in. Concerns had been raised as to whether or not folks who do not have a drivers license could easily get insurance or be able to afford it.

But supporters of the requirement say it is time for North Carolina to start keeping better track of mopeds.

“At the current time there is no oversight at all on mopeds at all on our highways and we have found in the last couple of years there have been a lot of accidents with mopeds, with which there has been no insurance coverage and there is no way to document those,” said Rep. Phil Shepard, an Onslow County Repuiblican.

Representatives from the rate bureau estimate someone with a good driving record could get annual moped insurance for approximately $70 a year.

People with a DUI or no driving experience could cost up to $300 to $400 annually.

State to consider taxing drivers based on mileage

RALEIGH — Gas prices are on the rise and will continue to spike in the coming weeks. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.56, which jumped 10 cents from March.

Prices in the Tar Heel State are a little lower at $3.49.

Experts said the spike of gasoline cost is because moving crude oil by rail is a safety problem in some areas.

“It’s straining transportation, especially out of North Dakota,” said market analyst Todd Hultman.

Another reason for an increase in gas prices is that ethanol is up by 50 cents a gallon at wholesale.

“That’s been a surprising effect of demand, mainly from exports in the ethanol,” Hultman said.

The next reason for the increase in prices is that risk-taking investors at the energy exchange in New York are sitting on 400,000 crude oil contracts.

In North Carolina, with more fuel efficient cars on the road, the Department of Transportation is looking into other ways to generate revenue because the gas tax may not be enough to fund road maintenance.

As cars stretch more miles out of every gallon these days, state leaders are looking into ways to keep the transportation revenue afloat.

On Wednesday, the State Board of Transportation is expected to review the possibility of a vehicle miles traveled tax. If implemented, drivers would be taxed by the mile instead of by the gallon.

This comes after a report suggests North Carolina could raise nearly $500 million a year by taxing cars one-half cent per mile.

– Linnie Supall

New transportation funding formula recognized

RALEIGH — Legislative leaders joined Gov. Pat McCrory Thursday to accept a thank you from the Triangle’s Regional Transportation Alliance.

“We have to have all our state working together and connecting,” said Joe Milazzo II, the RTA Executive Director.

The group points to the strategic mobility formula which was signed into law after getting bi-partisan legislative support. The law changes the funding structure for transportation projects.

“We’re building roads where they are actually needed,” Gov. Pat McCrory said earlier this week while talking about the formula. “Not where the politicians have the most power.”

The formula splits money into three pots: statewide, regional and division level. Projects are ranked in each level and the plan will be set based off the ranking for what projects get done.

“We’re going to get bigger bang for our buck, and build roads based upon congestion, based upon safety and based upon economic development,” said McCrory.

North Carolina’s Secretary of Transportation says after lawmakers passed a tax reform bill, he believes one barrier to economic growth was removed. Secretary Tony Tata says this removes another one.

“Now we’ve got more people interested,” said Tata. “We’ve got to be able to tell our great story of the great story of our infrastructure we have here, with our 80,000 road miles, two ports, a state owned railroad and all the other things we have from a transportation perspective.”

For the RTA, it says this will not only help their region of the state, but the state as a whole.

“When you make the investments in the right place, at the right time when they are needed, that allows commerce to flow, allows mobility to work and allows communities both large and small to prosper,” said Milazzo.

Federal judge approves DOT plan for Bonner Bridge

RALEIGH (AP) — A federal judge has approved plans for a parallel span to replace the aging Bonner Bridge along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, moving the state closer to starting a project that began 24 years ago.

Judge Louise Flanagan ruled Monday against environmentalists’ efforts to stop the state Transportation Department from building a new bridge to connect Hatteras Island with the mainland. The remaining legal hurdle is a petition filed with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, also by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The transportation department issued a $215 million contract to build a new bridge two years ago.

Environmental groups support a 17-mile bridge that goes into the Pamlico Sound. Its estimated cost is more than $1 billion.

A law center spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email.

Read more about the project here.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Lawmakers examine changes to state transportation funding

RALEIGH — State lawmakers are starting to examine the details of a major transportation funding overhaul they approved this year. Transportation workgroups are still working which criteria will determine future projects.

One of the key pieces of legislation from the 2013 legislative session revamped North Carolina’s transportation funding formula. It splits the allocation of dollars into separate pots, helping state, regional and local projects each have dollars available to them.

“Our objectives to this date is to improve transportation and its impacts to our economy through increased efficiency and open competition of our projects,” said Jim Trogdon, with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

On Tuesday, the Joint Transportation Oversight Committee met for the first time this year, spending the full day discussing the details of how the new funding will actually work. Specifically, the group looked at the breakdown of how different criteria are weighted.

But two regional planning organizations came forward with formulas that would be different from the state standard.

“Basically, the reason we got together and came up with our own formulas is we felt like the statewide default criteria appear to be favoring those projects that would cascade down into the lower funding buckets,” said Patrick Flanagan, the president of the North Carolina Association of RPOs.

The divisions point out that they include rural, military and coastal areas. But even if they have special attributes, sponsors of the original bill said the changes, on the surface, concern them.

“The difficulty with the change is the way it is presented it is giving these regions control of all three tiers of the money,” said Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, “which was not the intent.”

By day’s end, lawmakers sent a list of questions back to the workgroups setting up the details for implementing the law and agreed they need to meet again themselves to decide on how heavily some criteria should be weighted.

For his part, the state’s top transportation official said he agrees there is still work that needs to be done.

“We want to get the details exactly right,” said DOT Secretary Tony Tata, “and there are thousands of details that we need to get exactly right.”

– Loretta Boniti

Tuesday marks first business day of ‘tax and tag’ law in NC

Tuesday is the first day of business for a new law that prevents North Carolina motorists from registering their cars until their taxes are paid.

“Tax and Tag”, which took effect on Sunday, requires people to pay their property taxes and registration bills if they want their license plates.

Counties requested the new law because some drivers were delaying paying their bills. North Carolina has about 8.5 million registered vehicles.

Next US DOT chief Anthony Foxx to resign as Charlotte mayor

CHARLOTTE—Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx is resigning Monday after being confirmed last week as the nation’s newest transportation secretary in a rare 100-0 vote by the U.S. Senate.

Foxx will make his resignation official in a public meeting this afternoon. In that meeting, the Charlotte City Council will begin to select someone to temporarily fill the mayor’s seat until an election to select a new mayor can be held.

The person selected must be of the same political party as Mayor Foxx. City Council members have also expressed that they don’t want anyone who is planning to run for mayor in the election later this year to be chosen for the temporary spot.

After becoming Charlotte’s youngest mayor in 2009, at the age of 42, Foxx will become the youngest member of President Obama’s cabinet. As transportation secretary, he will oversee all of the country’s highways, mass transit, rail lines and airways.

Foxx will be facing several challenges in his new role. Among the largest, he will be tasked with finding funding to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure.