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US 64 Funding

The long-sought widening of U.S. 64 between Columbia and Manns Harbor could be nearer reality because of the Build NC Bond Act that Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law June 20.

The law authorizes the state treasurer to issue up to $300 million each year through 2028 to help expedite the construction of critical highway projects.

Bond funds are to be used for highway projects only, so they will not benefit airport, ferry, or bikeway construction. Bond money cannot be used on toll roads.

“With these additional funds, currently funded highway projects would move up which may allow us to fund additional projects that are funded in the ‘out years’ of the [10-year] Developmental Program,” explained Angela Welsh, director of Albemarle Rural Planning Organization based in Hertford.

The bond law specifies that projects must follow the quantitative and qualitative scoring processes set out in the Strategic Transportation Initiative Act (STI) of 2013, she added.

The U.S. 64 four-lane plan is categorized as a statewide project and competes for funding with many others across North Carolina. It has scored low in each year since the STI law was passed.

Issuance of bonds would depend on whether NCDOT’s average month-end cash balance for the first quarter of the calendar year prior to the date of determination is equal to or less than $1 billion, Welsh stated.

The debt would be repaid through dedicated transportation revenues and is similar to borrowing North Carolina already does based on anticipated funds from the state’s share of the federal gasoline tax.

Statewide voter approval in a referendum is not required to implement the bond program, but the bill passed the House and Senate by wide margins.