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Board raises alarm on roads

By Staff
Beaufort Commissioners seek more political clout
By PETER WILLIAMS
Managing Editor
Beaufort County commissioners expressed concern Monday night that poorer rural counties may be left holding the bag when it comes to transportation needs because of a bill approved in Raleigh last year.
Commissioner Robert Cayton brought up the issue because he fears that with the completion of the next census, 20 counties will be able to control half of the votes in the General Assembly.
For the first time since 1931, counties can now tackle their own road projects based on the bill passed in August. Cayton, and others, expressed fear that the new system would hurt, not help counties like Beaufort.
Cayton said the bill would harm the owners of logging trucks and farmers who use roads to bring their products to market because more emphasis will be placed on urban areas, like Raleigh and Charlotte. Current funding formulas allocate DOT fund to regions of the state without regard to population.
Cayton believes by the 2010 census, 80 of the state’s smaller counties will have about half of the votes in the General Assembly while the 20 largest counties will control the other half. “The number one thing driving this economic engine in the state is agriculture,” Cayton said. “We need to lay the foundation now,” he said.
Commissioner Hood Richardson called the new law “regressive”
Under the new law DOT will still fund road projects, but local government will be able to jump-start projects if they’re willing to help pay for them. Counties will also be able to complete projects DOT would not otherwise consider a priority.
There are three formulas:
– The county could enter a participation agreement by which the county would acquire right of way, do the planning and construct a road. The DOT would have the ability to approve or deny the plan and once finished DOT would assume maintenance of the project. Funding, most likely, would come in the form of bonds paid for by local taxpayers.
– A second way would be for the county to loan money to the DOT to expedite a road project that doesn’t have state funding attached. DOT would be responsible for paying the money back over a seven-year period.
– A third option would be to form a limited partnership with the state. Local government could add enhancements, like sidewalks and architectural upgrades like noise walls.
Seven percent of the state’s 79,000 miles of roadways carry 45 percent of the traffic, according to a report issued by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. Cayton cited the report in his presentation Monday.
DOT faces a massive backlog of projects that they can’t fund. North Carolina’s bridges received a D-minus in a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Roads earned a D, and bridges earned a C-minus.