Governor unveils massive transportation project plan; may face tough sell in legislature

DOT Secretary Tony Tata speaking at the Governor's transportation meeting
DOT Secretary Tony Tata speaking at the Governor's transportation meeting

CONCORD, N.C. (WBTV) - Speaking at the Concord Regional Airport, Governor Pat McCrory outlined a massive transportation plan that would cover 25 years, 3100 projects, and have a price tag estimated at $94 billion.

Called "Mapping Our Future," it's a comprehensive plan not only for building new roads, but improving existing roadways, better connecting metropolitan and rural areas, expanding mass transit, and creating jobs across every mode of transportation used in north Carolina.

"You don't ask for more money until you show the vision.  I think that's the mistake we've made in the past in North Carolina," Governor McCrory said. "We've said I'll do this and do that and then trust us and we'll spend the money.  We're telling you right now what that vision is and that vision is a vision of connectivity."

The 25 year plan is not a list of specific projects, according to the governor, but 22 "high level solutions" which address long term challenges faced in watch of the state's four regions.

For the Charlotte area the governor mentioned widening Interstate 85 from Mecklenburg to Rowan County to eliminate the places where the road squeezes down to two lanes each way.

"Isn't it odd," McCrory noted, "we have Salisbury at 8 lanes, or 20 lanes, whatever it is, it's a very nice little interchange at Innes Street or Jake Alexander Boulevard,  then we narrow down and it chokes again."

McCrory also mentioned improvements in Cabarrus County on Derita Road, the completion of I-485, expansion of Independence Boulevard, and fixing a troublesome interchange in Shelby, along with other urgent needs.

"Right here in Mecklenburg County, a major project of widening I-77 South between downtown and the South Carolina border which is desperately needed at this point in time," McCrory added.

The challenge for the plan may come from the General Assembly when it comes to finding revenue sources.

"It's a doable thing and I know we need more money for our infrastructure, our highways," said Representative Carl Ford (R-House District 76.)  "There are some problems.  Number one, it's a bond and I would like for that to go before the voters.  That being said, we definitely need more money for the highways, we're already behind, we need to speed up the process, and with the new formula that we voted on last year it's already caused some problems and it may be tweaked next year.  It seems like about 80% of the money is going to Mecklenburg and Wake County so there's going to be a lot of changes in transportation net year that I'm sure will go hand in hand with this plan."

For funding, McCrory says some of it is already done. For the rest of it, he suggests more than a one billion dollar bond for the legislature in January for 22 other projects to boost connectivity outside metro areas, then possible public/private partnerships and other revenue sources.

"The money is coming from existing revenue," McCrory added. "We're getting a bigger bang for our buck because of the mobility formula implementation, we're going to be borrowing against existing new revenue coming in."

McCrory stressed the idea of "connectivity," saying the state needs to improve the way drivers can go from Asheville to Wilmington, for example, adding that making such drives easier may encourage travelers to head towards the North Carolina coast instead of South Carolina beaches, boosting NC tourism.

The plan is set for discussion in the upcoming long session on the General Assembly, and those talks will include ways to secure funding for improvements to the state's transportation system.