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Candidates for governor answer transportation questions

By The Associated Press
Here are three questions posed by The Associated Press to the eight major-party candidates for governor on the topic of transportation, followed by their unabridged responses. The responses were only edited for AP style.
1. North Carolina is estimated to face a $65 billion shortfall in transportation funding during the next two decades. In your first two years as governor, what changes to the state’s taxes and fees, transfers or borrowing will you seek to narrow this gap?
2. Should the state’s system of allocating road-building money favor construction in urban areas and population centers, or be spread more evenly across the state’s diverse communities?
3. Lawmakers created the North Carolina Turnpike Authority in 2002, but the state has yet to open a toll road. Do you support toll roads and if so, what steps would you take as governor to boost their use?
DEMOCRATS:
RICHARD MOORE
1. I have proposed a $1.5 billion transportation bond to help us speed up transportation projects and meet our most urgent needs. According to the 2008 Debt Affordability Study, North Carolina can afford this level of borrowing. The rapid growth of our state has created significant transportation needs that must be addressed to maintain our economic competitiveness. This type of public spending on construction will also stimulate local economies because the projects put thousands of local employees to work and pump millions of dollars into community economies.
2. I have proposed a comprehensive transportation reform plan that will increase transparency about road building decisions and cut politics out of transportation decisions. Before we look at changing the allocation formula, I think we should make sure that we are cutting politics out of the process and stretching every dollar we have. We should build roads where they are needed, not where the insiders want them.
The combination of population growth, necessary repairs and maintenance and rapid inflation in construction costs has created an unprecedented transportation need. Simultaneously, a recent report from McKinsey Consulting confirmed what we already know: the Department of Transportation is overly political and bureaucratic, which leads to stagnation and inefficiency. To achieve the improvement in management and efficiency necessary to meet North Carolina’s long-term transportation needs, we must cut the bureaucracy and politics that govern the department’s decision-making process.
Here is how we can reach that goal:
ó Better decision making: The Department of Transportation should improve its decision making process to make it more transparent and to ensure that politics play less of a role. An important change will be to establish metrics that measure the need for and effectiveness of new projects. The results of this analysis should be publicly available and politicians must have a greatly reduced role in deciding the priority of projects.
ó No more legislative slush funds: We should end the practice of giving the legislative leadership their own discretionary transportation funds. These legislative slush funds have been used to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on pet projects, political favors and to benefit insiders with little or no accountability to taxpayers. By removing these slush funds, we can better ensure that precious transportation dollars go to needed projects.
ó No more political fundraising: The 19 members of the N.C. Board of Transportation, who oversee DOT operations and decision making, are among the most active campaign fundraisers in North Carolina politics. Since 2000, board members have contributed more than $500,000 to state political campaigns. We should end this practice by enacting a campaign finance law, similar to the prohibition on fundraising activities by lobbyists, which would apply to Board of Transportation members. The DOT Board’s priority should be making the best transportation decisions for North Carolina, not campaign fundraising.
With these three steps, North Carolina can significantly reduce the politics and bureaucracy that plagues decision making within the Department of Transportation. Once these steps are taken, we will be closer to having the management in place that is required to meet North Carolina’s significant transportation needs.
3. I support toll roads for new construction projects. The biggest obstacle we currently face in getting these projects under way is the need for gap funding to make up the difference between expected toll revenue and the total cost of the project. There are a number of options for us to make up this gap, including bond proceeds, straight appropriations, or long-term financing deals.
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DENNIS NIELSEN
1. I do not believe there is a $65 billion shortfall. First the state must stop robbing the highway trust fund. You can’t tax the public for roads and construction, rob the fund and then cry because you don’t have money, this is utter nonsense. We have also had state budget surpluses the last five years, before we go and make the assumption that we have a specific dollar shortfall let’s first put the money where it belongs and then see what we need to do. Most of the problem with the DOT has been in poor management and until we fix that the transportation system will be in constant turmoil.
2. Money should be spent where it is most needed.
3. Here you again make my point; we have had an authority since 2002 but nothing has happened, too many authorities and commissions with little to no results. I am opposed to toll roads they cause traffic congestion, pollute the environment and one might say cause undue risk to drivers. It is a bad idea and once you get a toll road it never goes away. These also hurt the lowest income citizens as they pay the same as the wealthier. The cost to just get to work is ever increasing and to add more expense to the hard working citizens of North Carolina is just dumb. So to be very plain I do not support toll roads and would do nothing to “boost their use.”
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BEVERLY PERDUE
Although recognized in the past as the “good roads state,” North Carolina now faces unmet transportation needs of $30-$65 billion dollars over the next few decades, a shortfall that threatens our quality of life and our economic development.
Our next governor must be prepared to confront the challenges facing DOT and work with diverse ó and often competing ó regional needs across the state. We need a governor who will create targeted solutions for the particular needs of different regions. Our needs are pressing and cannot be solved with a one-size-fits-all approach.
As a co-sponsor of legislation creating the $1 billion a year Highway Trust Fund in 1989, I have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to our transportation future. I know that requires more than just flowery rhetoric and promises. It takes implementation of specific plans to get the job done. These four steps represent my starting points for overhauling transportation in our state and addressing the financial shortfall:
End the annual transfer of money from the Highway Trust Fund
When the Trust Fund was created, the annual transfer was a necessary and bipartisan measure to prevent a drastic impact on such other vital state services as education and health care. Today, nineteen years later, it is time to end the transfer. Every highway-related dollar must stay in the Highway Trust Fund. I will end the $170 million annual transfer during my first term. That will generate more than $1 billion in new bonding capacity and allow us to address our most pressing bridge safety needs and road priorities.
Transform the Department of Transportation
We must break the bureaucratic bottleneck by transforming DOT’s outdated, overly-centralized decision making model – just like our best private sector enterprises did long ago. Project planning and decision making should occur in the field with project directors and engineers with expertise and hands-on knowledge. Decentralizing DOT, holding divisions accountable for results, and allowing them to partner with cities and counties and regions will create better management and execution of projects.
Lower Project Costs
It is clear that we can complete our transportation projects more efficiently and quickly. Mainly due to the bureaucratic inefficiencies in the way that DOT schedules and manages projects, the cost of our construction projects too often exceed comparable projects in other states. Cutting months as well as years off projected construction schedules will dramatically reduce our transportation project costs. We should also provide clear economic incentives for contractors to finish projects under budget and on time.
Targeted Solutions for Communities
Washington may have backed away from its commitment to transit systems in our state’s growing cities, but North Carolina should not. We must find innovative ways to promote and encourage public transit and regional rail systems because increasing ridership is the key to securing the federal funding needed for them to succeed. I also support giving local governments more authority to raise the revenue and create the partnerships they need to make more public transit options available in their communities.
Ending the transfer, transforming DOT, holding contractors accountable, lowering construction costs, and enhancing local transit options are all vital steps to helping North Carolina meet our growing transportation needs. As Governor, I want to make us not just the “Good Roads State” once again, but also the “Great Transportation State”
REPUBLICANS:
BILL GRAHAM
1. I would ask that the transfer of $172 million from the Highway Trust Fund be stopped immediately. I would then propose legislation that would require that all dollars targeted for transportation only be spent for the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. I would then propose a bond to immediately relive congestions on our interstate systems and begin repairing our bridges.
2. I would revise the funding formula to give higher consideration to congestion and safety. The third priority would be economic development. We are paying enough in taxes to allow for all of our communities to have safe and adequate roads whether they are in rural areas or urban.
3. I do not support toll roads. We pay enough taxes that we should not be assessed another tax to support a road that should have already been built had it not been for the waste in the Department of Transportation. Toll roads are yet another device to take money from the driving public and allow inefficiency and corruption to continue in the Department of Transportation.
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PAT MCCRORY
1. The first task will be to bring back to the Highway Trust Fund as much of the money that has been stripped away by Governor Easley and the legislature over the past eight years as possible. Next, a reallocation of priorities to address building the roads that give the state the most benefit for the money will speed the process and reduce the immediate backlog. Exploring new and innovative construction techniques that are successfully employed in other states facing lower funding levels could cut down on the time of actual construction (timemoney). An example would be upgrading the shoulders of state and federal highways to increase capacity immediately (Federal Highway Administration has indicated approval upon their final inspection). And, yes, stop wasting taxpayers money ó in a recent commentary one reporter acknowledged that yes, the state did waste $400 million on mental health, another $150 million elsewhere, and $22 million on I-40, but that wasn’t much money is a $20 billion budget … not a lot of money? That’s a half billion dollars, and yes that is real money. We are not a poor state. Our revenues have grown virtually every year but they have been wasted by the current state leaders and if elected governor, such waste will stop immediately. Finally, create a 50-year Transportation Plan to build roads so they will be in place to handle future growth.
2. The money needs to be spent where the traffic congestion and safety needs are the greatest.
3. Toll roads will be actively considered but I will only try and implement them where they make the most sense and only after a statewide vote on the issue. Right now, I-95 from South Carolina to Virginia seems the most feasible highway to be converted into a toll road.
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BOB ORR
1. I support ending the current Highway Trust Fund transfers. However, throwing more money at a broken system can only result in more waste. The state is losing hundreds of millions of dollars simply because the NCDOT cannot deliver the transportation program it is charged with. Some of my opponents have advocated taking on additional debt, but before we can even entertain such a proposal, we need to determine how much waste can be cut out of the current NCDOT operation and how we can more efficiently meet our needs with the money appropriated. No politician should ask the citizens of this state to take on more public debt without first clearly defining the need (the exact funding shortfall), how the funds will be spent, and on what specific transportation program priorities. I’d like to maximize the effective use of our current $3.9 billion annual budget, by setting clear priorities, determining the cost, and then developing innovative solutions for long range transportation funding.
2. I believe that maintaining safe roads should be our first priority. Before we do anything else, our roadways must be built and maintained to ensure that travelers are not put in harm’s way. In my transportation plan, safety comes first, followed by maintaining existing roads then reducing congestion and assisting economic development. These are the priorities advocated by the experts.
3. Yes. I believe the implementation of toll roads over the next several years is necessary under certain circumstances. North Carolina has extensive road construction needs. Toll roads provide a mechanism to help finance some of those projects in the short term. While I support the expanded use of tolls beyond the six projects currently being implemented by the NC Turnpike Authority, our current focus should be on completing and evaluating the success of the existing six toll initiatives. In the meantime, we need to look for additional opportunities to use other short-term tools such as private-public partnerships, HOT lanes and congestion pricing. Ultimately, we must implement a long term plan to adequately finance road construction into the future in light of changing demands and revenue.
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ELBIE POWERS
1. As a small business owner, overloaded taxpayer, question is, Where will they get more money from? Their only source, TAXES, HIGHER TAXES, from working people. Currently paying 40 percent of our earnings in taxes. They need 50 percent or more, to feed their experience. 10 to 20 years from now, they need 80 percent. Where will it end? We working, must have relief. It will not come from politicians. We must run our state like a business, your business, investing, earning, making profits. Billions in corporate profits leave this state. Corporations enjoy taxpayer money, hundreds of millions to set up in NC, this isn’t reducing taxes. I’m running for governor to level the playing field. Common sense, consider this, we build a first in America, taxpayer-owned oil refinery, import crude to Wilmington seaport. Lower gas up to 30 cents per gallon, hiring 240,000 statewide new jobs, full service, pumping your gas, wash windshield, etc. Keep billions in profits, reducing taxes and just wiped out unemployment in NC. Reduced gas cost, more of your money to you each week. Selling lower cost gas to surrounding states, creating more profit, lowering your cost. Keep additional billions in profits replacing our taxes, we begin our taxpayer owned processing plants and company’s to handle, insurance, banking needs, bottled water, milk, coffee, bread, eggs, beef, creating jobs, reducing cost to you 10 percent, across the board, while billions in profits rebuild our state and infrastructure. You keep your tax money. We run our state off consumer profits. OR, you vote to stay on the current system, with their experience and business mind-set. Your one vote will decide. Lastly, remove all poor decision makers from the top agencies. The working people down the ladder, tells me who!!!!
2. Yes, areas of rural NC haven’t been paved in years, their taxes increasing also, with only promises reaching them. As governor I’ll make sure the “state’s system” is guided by fair and equal means.
3. I am against toll roads, we are paying enough taxes at the state and federal level to sustain our roads. We need better decision makers in elected position. With the current trend of poor managing, overspending from politicians, if the first toll road makes money, they will have toll roads from one end to the other end. Let us try all new leaders and common sense first.
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FRED SMITH
1. We are already failing in meeting the State’s transportation needs. Our urban interstate highways are among the most congested in the nation; the condition of our rural roads and highways rank 41st and our bridges 39th in the nation. This negatively impacts our economic development, not to mention the safety and quality of life of our citizens.
We can become the Good Roads State once again by:
ó Dedicating 100 percent of Highway Trust Fund and other transportation resources to our highways and transportation infrastructure by stopping the $172 million transfer annually to the state’s general fund.
ó Issuing $4 billion in new transportation infrastructure bonds to accelerate the construction of critical projects and improve highway maintenance; stopping the $172 million annual transfer of funds can provide the resources to repay this debt, and by paying for the Highway Patrol and driver education out of the general fund.
ó Clearly defining responsibility and creating new accountability for management at the Department of Transportation. Expensive studies have reinforced what we already knew: neither the Department of Transportation nor its leadership has any clear vision or goals for the State, is directed by politics, and is operating in substantially a reactive mode with no real direction. We must gain new confidence that our current transportation dollars are being spent effectively, achieving the maximum possible benefit. The governor appoints the Secretary of Transportation, and should take a more hands-on approach to ensure that DOT is both an effective and efficient department.
ó We must examine every opportunity for meeting the funding needs of our transportation system.
2. Our goal should be to enhance and maintain our transportation infrastructure across the entire State. The safe travel of our citizens and the ability to transport goods and services safely and efficiently across North Carolina are key to our successful economic development and jobs creation, as well as quality of life, in both our urban and rural counties. To the extent possible, we must consider the needs of all counties. We need to revisit the equity formula to include a factor for congestion and safety. To gain the greatest benefit, however, we must establish and monitor transportation priorities based upon the greatest determined needs and urgency, and focus significant resources on those priorities. If we are to succeed, we need a transportation plan that clearly identifies priorities based on needs and urgency, not on political maneuvering.
3. Once initial construction and maintenance priorities are established, funding must be identified to move forward with the projects. In some cases, the use of tolls may be the appropriate funding mechanism that will allow a more timely completion of the project. As governor, I would consider toll roads in order to accelerate the completion of the project or to begin new projects, but only when the public has an alternate route.

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