A closer look at the governor’s 25-year plan

by Daniel Schere

On Wednesday this week, Gov. Pat McCrory announced his 25-year transportation plan for the state, which focuses on connecting urban regions like the Triad with rural outlying areas. He discussed a bond of $1 billion which will fund about 21 projects, including the completion of the Eastern half of the Winston-Salem Beltway.

“I know this is a major project for you in this area and we’ve listened to you loud and clear,” McCrory said. “Now is the time to do that because interest rates are low. Those projects, as you well know in Winston-Salem, are off on the side getting cobwebs.”

McCrory did not say what the pecking order would be for the 21 projects or what chunk of the $1 billion it would receive.

The news was received with cheers from the Winston-Salem delegation, which included Mayor Allen Joines as well as councilwomen Vivian Burke and Molly Leight. Joines said the city had secured funding for the first four segments of the beltway, but the state funding will ensure the completion of the rest of I-74.

“We scored kind of low in the statewide rankings but we came back in the regional rankings and got those four segments approved,” Joines said.

Those rankings have delayed a number of road projects in Forsyth County since the General Assembly passed House Bill 817 in 2013 which set criteria for funding different projects by looking at factors like congestion, safety and potential for economic development.

Several times during the press conference McCrory mentioned the need to “take the politics out” from the process of funding transportation projects. He recalled past trips to the beach he had taken where the number of lanes varied from two to eight and the highway changed names depending on the local politician it was named after.

Despite McCrory’s assurances of a completely data-driven process, some remain skeptical of the DOT’s methods when it comes to evaluating the state’s greatest areas of need. Chamber of Commerce President Gayle Anderson said she will feel better when she sees a more concrete timetable for the beltway.

“This is a 25-year vision and that’s wonderful to have for the state but we’re expecting our road to be finished much sooner than in 25 years,” she said.

Anderson said that because the DOT’s mobility formula includes cost as a factor in its evaluation process, they often choose less expensive projects that relieve congestion at local choke points as opposed to larger projects that help connect parts of the state to each other.

“The true economic impact of our road is not the little incremental stuff that happens at an interchange, you know the gas stations and the fast food restaurants. The true economic impact for our road is what happens when you connect to the rest of the country.”

McCrory said the General Assembly will consider the entire plan in January.