When it comes to road money, Charlotte gets Screwed

Several of you have expressed an interest in getting updates on what is happening in the Charlotte area. If you've ever driven around this city, you already know that much of what we talk about locally centers on transportation. As we struggle to add a light rail system and other modern mass transit options, we also sadly find ourselves still stuck in the roads mode and one reason is that Charlotte rarely gets its fair share of money from the state. Our municiple roads aren't repaired because we wind up having to foot the bill to repair state roads in our area since Basnight and the gang out East gobble up all the state road money to pave rural roads that nobody travels. (sour grapes much?)

Meanwhile, the projects consistently rising to the top of the list have been in the Eastern North Carolina district of Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, D-Dare. Seven of his eight counties were in the top 20 on a per-capita basis, though many have small populations that can skew the ranking.

Please follow below the fold....

Oh...I might sound like I'm just whining and complaining but I'm not making stuff up. It's fairly well documented. The above quote is in reference to a small pot of money relative to the entire budget, but is indicative of the problem.

I intended to write a more inclusive piece, but arthritis is preventing me from sitting or typing too long today. Fortunately for all of us Richard Rubin of The Charlotte Observer has put together a nice piece that covers just a small part of the problem. His first few paragraphs:

Charlotte drivers know the problems well: dangerous school zones, crumbling streets and accident-prone intersections.

The N.C. Department of Transportation has a pot of money that could help fix those problems -- but relatively little of it comes to the Charlotte area.

The $15 million contingency fund is controlled largely by legislative leaders who distribute it to their colleagues' districts, and their own, without a comprehensive analysis of traffic, safety or population, according to an Observer investigation.

Over the past six years, Mecklenburg, the state's most populous county, received $1.99 per person, ranking it 94th out of 100 counties in per capita spending. Forty-one counties, about half of them east of Interstate 95, got more than $12 per person.

I know roads aren't the sexiest portion of transportation discussions, but that's what we have to deal with.

Many of Mecklenburg County's roads projects have long delays in completion due to lack of funding. As smaller municipalities develop projects that qualify for funding and the legislature approves them, the pot of money for roads is spread too thin to complete projects already started in larger cities like Charlotte.

Top if off with the fact that we contribute more to the pot of money than any other area of the state and you have a bunch of frustrated drivers.

This is a complicated issue. Each project seems to have its own special problem and I don't believe that throwing money at problems will solve them. However, Mecklenburg County always seems to be at the end of the line when it comes to money for our roads and it would be nice if more of the tax dollars we pay could be directed to our own county long enough to meet the needs of the people who live here. You know I don't mind sharing. I'm just saying..............

Sales and Use Taxes (PDF)
Sorry, I couldn't find similar data on state income tax.


This disconnect between the Queen City and the rest of NC

seems to be present on lots of fronts. Could it be part of the long, sad legacy of Jim Black?

But more important, you forgot to point out that Richard Rubin couldn't find anyone to ask about this issue besides Stagemanager Hood.

The problem with the fund is that legislative leaders act as highway administrators, using their clout to push aside potentially more worthy projects, said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation.

"Don't create a system that invites abuse and substitutes political heft for sound transportation consideration," he said.

But where Hood sees political heft, Basnight sees public input from local leaders and senators.

"They were elected by the people and I think that's a good review of what people wanted and they have communities they represent," he said. "And if the wishes of the communities are that you help us on this project, (then) we should make those recommendations to DOT."

I was going to write a whole entry about the the hypocrisy of John Hood - who hates planners of transportation projects only a slight bit less than he hates elected officials who divvy up the money. Come to think of it, maybe I will.

He interviewed quite a few legislators, A

I didn't forget to point anything out. The problem isn't that he only interviewed Hood, it's that we don't have anyone on our side doing the studies. I googled for much of the day and found nothing that wasn't connected to Hood. It was very annoying.

Richard interviewed quite a few people, though. This wasn't intended to be a critique of Richard's work, but an introduction to one of the most annoying issues we face here in Meck.

The disconnect started long before Black was Speaker.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


You're giving the Puppetshow far more credit than they deserve.

I'm not objecting to Rubin's story on the whole, I'm objecting to inclusion of a right wing mouthpiece in an otherwise thoughtful article.

Hood's not speaking from any "studies" or even a valid perspective. He's arguing that transportation planners should be making decisions about how to allocate public funding. That's just plain stupid, especially coming from a person who disapproves of transportation planning as a matter of principle.


I know this whole funding problem must be annoying and frustrating, and I'm sympathetic. I just can't let another reporter slide by in the Hood-mobile.

No...but our side WOULD do studies

Didn't mean to give the hood more credit than he deserves. Before I posted this I was trying to find tax data - just plain tax data. I'll give you one guess where Google kept taking me.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

I see what you're saying

and I see the need for some serious analysis. You're right.

For example, 70% of projects are those initiated by Dems. Is that because Dems represent urban areas with more transportation needs?

And then there's this:

Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, who chairs the county's delegation, said he's happy to endorse requests for small projects that can't otherwise get DOT money. But he and Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, both said constituents rarely ask.

"If folks want to complain about not getting the money," Clodfelter said, "they've got to first ask themselves, `Did we make an effort to go get the money?' "

What's the deal on Clodfelter and Carney?


PS Not surprising that the Googly takes you to Hood all the time. It seems like every other column he writes is about how NC doesn't have enough roads. Sometimes I think he's in cahoots with Fredly "The Asphalt King" Smith and is getting ready to jump off the sinking USS PopeCo ship.

Carney ran push polls on my mom in a Dem primary

for the seat Carney currently holds. Let's just not bring her up, thank you very much. She also promised to only serve one term. Yeah, right.

I'm not sure what is up with Clodfelter. The fact is many of Charlotte's projects/needs are too high dollar for this particular pot of money, but the same problems exist with all the pots of money. Wake county doesn't quite have the same problems because legislators from out east still likey them some Wake County, but as Wake gets larger I bet they will experience some of the same issues as Meck.

You know, to read Carney and Clodfelter you'd think all I would have to do to get my road fixed is to ask. Constituents ask? Don't think that's quite how it works. I think the city pretty much is on top of areas that need help. Maybe I should check with this really nice city council person I know and see if Charlotte can't push Carney to get off her ass and get us some funds for some repairs and such. :)

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

I thought Carney

was the one you'd mentioned. Blech.

Couldn't agree more about the "ask and you shall receive" stuff. Seems to me that both the Carney and the Clod are too lazy to do the real work of being in the legislature. They ought to be in tight with the county and city governments, pushing and pulling to build long lists of projects to put into the Transportation Improvement Planning process at the DOT.

I agree completely

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.



Sorry SD, but I'm not falling for the road-funding crocodile tears. It's like W and his ridiculous tax cuts - there is no such thing as 'enough'.

All 67 miles of the I-485 Charlotte Outer Loop will be finished before any of the Highway Trust Fund money that is collected statewide gets spent in Durham, or Asheville, or other parts of the state. The 4 sections of I-485 currently listed under construction on the NCDOT website cost $180 million for about 15 miles. That will be a billion dollar highway in Charlotte. It has a twin in Raleigh that is just as pricey.

Could the money have been better spent on transit or on improvements to local roads than on a sprawl-inducing loop road? Sure, it could have, but it wasn't.

The Highway Trust Fund was established in 1989. We've been waiting 18 years for some of that nickel a gallon money to return to Durham. Our designated "loop" project is U-71 and has been a 3-mile dotted line on the map for more than 30 years. Most NCDOT projects come with 4 digits these days, but ours just has 2. It's that old.

3 miles, 30 years. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of commuter trips go through Durham's urban neighborhoods every day because that is the only alternative.

Get in the back of the line, Charlotte - it is someone else's turn now.

Use your head, Todd

With the highest population in the state, where do you think a large portion of the highway trust fund comes from? According to you:

All 67 miles of the I-485 Charlotte Outer Loop will be finished before any of the Highway Trust Fund money that is collected statewide gets spent in Durham, or Asheville, or other parts of the state.

This is deceptive and...well...basically wrong. You make it sound like the fund money is collected equally statewide and that everyone is waiting in line behind Mecklenburg to get their fair share.

The Highway Trust Fund money comes from the 3% Use Tax collected when a title is transferred as well as the nickel a gallon you are referring to. Where do you think much of this revenue is generated? Durham? I don't think so. Actually, I know it isn't. Durham and Asheville/Buncombe have both received money from the highway trust fund with Durham having received more per capita than Wake, Meck and Buncombe. I-485 is massively behind schedule and the reason most often given is lack of money.

I understand that loop money comes from a separate pot and Charlotte's I-485 is more complete than others, but it wasn't Charlotte that kept Durham's project from starting. If you recall your recent history, Durham city and county governments did not like the state's plan. I'm not an engineer and don't live in Durham, so I can't speak to the plan or its effectiveness, but it is a fact that the delays in Durham didn't have anything to do with Charlotte being in the front of the line. I believe the I-485 completion date was originally around 2011. There will be portions now that won't break ground until after 2013. The sprawl was already there and would have continued with or without the loop.

If you will refer to this chart provided by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization with data provided by NCDOT, you will see that Durham receives a higher percentage of its (gas and use) tax dollars returned to the county by NCDOT and check this chart out (PDF) and you will see that NCDOT spends more per capita in Durham County than it does in Meck or Wake. These charts cover the time period from 1990/91 to 2004/05, so you can see that this spending in Durham County has not been limited to a short time period or one special project. Actually, Mecklenburg's return ratio includes loop money as does Wake's. Can you imagine the return ratio Durham will show once the loop project is funded? When you look at the return ratio, 66 counties are ahead of Mecklenburg yet Mecklenburg contributes more than any other county to the trust fund. (I will admit that Buncombe is behind Meck in return ratio and right with us in spending per capita, so a demand for more road money from them is more palatable.)

There are a lot of other counties that don't receive much at all and should be in line ahead of Durham - Cabarrus and Rowan are two just for starters.

Durham hasn't been waiting 18 years for anything. Durham is getting plenty compared to a lot of other areas of the state. I guess your statement that "enough is never enough" actually applies to your town and not mine. No crocodile tears from this corner of the room, Todd.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Great post, but this is not unique to Charlotte.

I will never forget driving to ECU as a freshman in 1980 and finding that all of the roads into and out of Greenville were four- laned. The infrastucture in rural, eastern North Carolina shocked this Charlotte native. So, this East vs West dynamic is not new, but that does not excuse it.

Here in Va, Northern Virginia accounts for more than 60% of the state's revenue and yet we get back barely 40%. We are gearing up for the 2007 legislative eletions, knowing that the Republicans cannot deliver on transporation. Unlike in NC, we democrats here do not control either house, but transportation is our hope for the house of delegates (house).

As for my fondly held home state, things are so different, and yet not really. Rural legislators of both parties often look at Charlotte as "the great state of Mecklenburg," and regional and bi-partisan alliances have not yielded much progress. This is true in Va, except that here in Norhtern Va we are finally starting to elect more Democrats and we are working better as a region.

I remember well the Neil Pierce series in the Observer in the late 90's about Charlotte as a "citistate." It was brilliant, but until the entire area starts to see itself as one, nothing will change. Republicans elect idealouges and anti-government types using social issues (abortion, gays, guns) that elect them and then aren't relevant to their tenure. People need to realize that what is good for Charlotte- is in all likelihood good as well for Monroe, Gastonia, Statesville and Concord and their legislators need to recognize that. Regional co-operation, given the working and living patterns of the greater Charlotte metro area have to begin to have an effect. People might have moved to the hinterlands for lower taxes, but they still have to drive into and out of Charlotte to work everyday.

Anyway- elect more Democrats people!

Thank you, KevJ

Your comment is on target. Looking through this has been a real eye-opener. Cabarrus is in sore need of emergency attention. Mecklenburg should step up and help their reps - Rs or Ds get some road money.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

It is the worst.....85 thru Cabarrus!

Bill Hefner had funds approved back in '97 for 6 lanes from Rowan into Mecklenburg. What has Hayes done??

Not a durned thing

Cabarrus and Rowan have been forgotten when it comes to roads and Cabarrus is home to the top tourist attraction in the state. Embarrassingly enough it's a shopping mall, but the traffic is terrible. I think Meck and Cabarrus need to discuss connecting the two counties and the research campus specifically with the UNCC light rail line. Future growth will warrant it.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

I guess that is why you moved away......

Seriously, they did the improvements around Concord Mills, but nothing northward! I know that many are pushing for light rail, but I am not so sure. It works in Jersey and in other places that are more densly populated, I am not sure about the suburban south. Still- I am not opposed.

I only say light rail

because that is what Charlotte has already started. I live a mile away from Concord Mills. (on the other side) We did a lot of our Christmas running around in the new shops that have opened in Kannapolis/Concord along the I85 corridor. The traffic was unbelievable.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

My last trip there was in late October for

my mother's 70th b-day. I came down on a Friday and traffic was backed up into Rowan on 85, so I drove into Concord the old way, on 29 thru China Grove, Landis and Kannapolis. It was cool, but only because I was reminising. Took way too long!

I think I mentioned we had property in Lincoln Co

We've had some delays in selling/building and most of it was me dragging my feet to get this house ready to sell, but the painting is finished and now it's just decluttering and getting odds and ends.

Funny, we've all had to learn the back roads. I85 is a mess.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.