Transportation Reform Takes a Step Forward in North Carolina

Statement on NC HB 817 by Kym Hunter, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center

Today’s passage of  the Strategic Mobility Formula  marks the first step towards comprehensive transportation overhaul in North Carolina.  The legislation brings the State’s transportation policy into the Twenty-First century and scraps the decades-old way of doing business that has been on the books since 1989.

The new approach takes important steps towards de-politicizing the transportation project selection process.  Some projects have been on the books for decades and no longer make sense.  For example, the bill strikes several proposed but unnecessary turnpike projects written into statute by powerful legislators and then blindly pursued regardless of their merit, including the Mid-Currituck Bridge, the Garden Parkway, and the Cape Fear Skyway. 

These politically-driven turnpike projects would have saddled the state with decades of debt while providing little transportation benefit.  NCDOT has already concluded that the Parkway will bring net job losses to North Carolina, a fact that the new scoring process can now take into consideration as it ranks the projects against the state’s other transportation needs.

Despite the bill’s promise, however, we remain concerned that politics could find its way back into the process.  A data-driven process sounds fantastic, but even something which is, on the surface, data-driven can succumb to outside influence.  We were pleased to work with legislators on language that forces the scoring process to be more transparent by requiring all data and metrics used to be fully open to the public. We will carefully monitor the scoring process as it is finalized and make sure that the process results in the intended purpose of selecting the best projects for North Carolina, and is not used to justify pre-determined, politically chosen projects.

We also hope that after taking this important first step, legislators will continue to refine the legislation to move closer to Governor McCrory’s original promise for all modes of transportation to compete equally for funding.  The current legislation favors highways over rail, transit, and bike and pedestrian projects.  To truly serve all North Carolinians, rail, transit, and bike and pedestrian projects should be allowed to compete equally with roads for funding in a true data-driven process to make the best choices for North Carolina’s transportation future, free from political constraints and agendas.

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The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional conservation organization using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 60 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
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