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More Local Input on State Transportation Decisions? Legislators Consider It 

By NCLM Staff

Just ahead of the current legislative session, a panel of lawmakers eyed ideas for transportation legislation that included a possible boost in local input on state-funded project decisions. Welcomed news, of course. A bill like that, if approved, would satisfy a policy goal that League members set out in October at CityVision 2016.

As it stands, local officials and state transportation engineers have an equal say in those transportation project decisions. A potential shift to greater local input came up for discussion on Dec. 12 at a meeting of the House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long-Term Funding Solutions, an interim legislative body chaired by Rep. John Torbett of Stanley. It was Representative Torbett who directed General Assembly staff to draft a bill that would change the say to a two-thirds/one-third break, with local preference being the greater weight.

He also asked staff to draft an additional provision that would meet another League goal: to increase state funding for infrastructure – in this case, for a state infrastructure bank that would provide low-cost loans to local governments for transportation projects. It’s an idea the League highlighted last year in Episode Two of its biweekly podcast, Municipal Equation, which also features a conversation with Representative Torbett on infrastructure funding solutions. Listen to that at soundcloud.com/municipalequation.

At the time of this writing, the committee was set to debate these ideas and others, and ultimately could approve draft language for this year’s legislative session.

"I think we’re going to make some good recommendations," said Rep. Becky Carney, a Charlotte legislator and transportation committee member. Representative Carney added that her priorities include better urban-rural connectivity, which among other things could improve access to places of employment. "We’ve got a lot of members in the majority party and the minority party who are committed to strengthening our infrastructure in this state," she said.

Representative Carney noted that the momentum for more infrastructure investment is growing. "We have a long way to go, but there’s been a good start over the last four years, and I think we’re building on that – and that’s a bipartisan issue," she said.

General Assembly lawmakers passed the Strategic Transportation Investments, or STI, law in 2013 to reduce political influence on state-funded transportation projects. As part of that funding overhaul, the formula allocates 30 percent of available state funds to N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) divisions, which are groups of counties. When divisions are considering which projects to prioritize, they use a point system. Local officials and NCDOT division engineers now get the same amount of points -- which would shift in favor of local preference if the legislature passes a bill in line with that suggested by Representative Torbett.