After Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 817, also known as the Strategic Transportation Investments, into law about three weeks ago, the North Carolina Metropolitan Mayors Coalition sat down with Ned Curran, chairman of the North Carolina Board of Transportation, to discuss what the formulas for House Bill 817 should look like. This is what we learned:
NCMMC: What role will the Board play in the implementation of House Bill 817?
NC: Right now the board is very engaged in receiving and reacting to the preliminary recommendations coming forward from the work groups that have been assigned to that task. After evaluating whether any changes are warranted the Board will advance the final recommendations to the legislature for their reaction and eventual approval. We will then have the rules with which to operate under in making funding decisions going forward.
NCMMC: The bill saw overwhelming support in the General Assembly. Was there similar support from the Board?
NC: Absolutely, the bill clearly had overwhelming support within the board.
NCMMC: What are you looking for while approving the formulas? What are the important qualities the formulas should be measuring?
NC: We’re looking for balance. We’re looking to insure that all areas of the state are looked after in a fair and equitable manner. At the same time we’re looking for new ways to be strategic in how we spend money with a goal of helping with job creation and economic development. We still have very high unemployment rates in the state. We still have areas in great distress, and we’ve got to find better ways to use transportation infrastructure to help those areas.
NCMMC: When the governor has talked about economic development and connecting people in rural areas to jobs in urban areas, how do you see future transportation playing a role in these linkages?
NC: The governor is absolutely correct that what we’ve got to focus on are job centers. We have to provide greater options for mobility to those jobs centers and that could take any form of transportation that’s appropriate for linking a particular area to a job center. So that could be in the form of rail, bus or highway. All forms are open to evaluation in order to get to greater mobility and linkage to jobs.
NCMMC: What role do you think the board will play in transportation more generally?
NC: Generally, the board will continue one of its primary roles to insure that we are strategically and prudently investing our transportation dollars. We face a challenging environment where we forecast a revenue model that does not keep up with population growth. So we’ve got to look at ways to enhance that revenue formula and in doing so evaluate alternative approaches, while at the same time, continuing to be thoughtful about how we spend the precious dollars we have.
NCMMC: How do you see the board interacting with MPOs, RPOs and locally elected officials?
NC: I think that interaction is going to be greater than it ever has been. With the tiered levels of potential funding for select projects it will be critical for the MPO, RPOs and locally elected officials to work very closely with DOT staff and the board member assigned to their division to ensure project benefits are fully understood. With funding available for projects of regional and statewide significance regional cooperation is encouraged and will further facilitate the understanding and appreciation for the benefits a project can provide to a region. I think the new law provides a remarkable opportunity for enhancing regionalism across the state.