North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on June 20 signed a bill into law that would provide a financing tool to support highway projects.
The Build North Carolina Bond Act passed through the House on June 12.
Build NC, as the legislation is known, establishes a funding mechanism through which the North Carolina Department of Transportation could access debt capacity within the state Highway Trust Fund to finance road projects within regions and divisions. There are seven regions in the state, and each comprises two divisions.
NCDOT completed the Interstate 140 bypass around Wilmington in December 2017. (Patriarca12 — Wikicommons)
NCDOT spokeswoman Greer Beaty explained that the agency can only rely on this financing tool if it continues the strong record of project delivery that has characterized the past year. She said the department has increased its level of delivery and completed several projects over the past year. For example, NCDOT completed the Interstate 140 bypass around Wilmington in December 2017, two years ahead of schedule.
Beaty said that maintaining a steady tempo of project delivery also will provide consistency for NCDOT’s private sector partners.
“We’ve increased project delivery,” she said. “Communities need these projects. [We’ve been] turning up the heat on getting the projects out the door. That is our goal, to deliver the best possible projects as efficiently as we can.”
Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick) was one of several legislators who sponsored Build NC, which moved through the House under the name HB 1010. Iler compared Build NC with the federal Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEE) program, which allows states to accelerate highway construction projects by selling bonds.
“We hope this will do something similar using anticipated state funds,” Iler said. “I’m excited based on what I’ve seen of GARVEE bonds.”
Build NC bonds cannot be issued until several conditions are met. One is that NCDOT’s average month-end cash balance for the first three months of the calendar year prior to the date of the state treasurer’s determination is $1 billion or less.
Build NC is meant to benefit projects outlined in the State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, which offers a 10-year forecast of projects that are scheduled for funding. Projects outlined in STIP are determined through a process of data analysis.
“Build NC is a critical tool North Carolina needs to ensure we can continue strong project delivery,” Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said in a statement released June 12. “Our transportation system is the backbone of our economic competitiveness and our quality of life.”
Lack of highway funding is a nationwide issue. Many state leaders have expressed concern over the sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund, which assists states with maintenance and construction projects. The fund remains a pressing concern for legislators and transportation officials. Improvements in fuel consumption and shifting driving habits contribute to the account’s steady decline, prompting several general fund transfers in recent years to maintain its solvency.
“For families trying to get to work and school faster, for farmers and business owners seeking to get their goods to customers, and for CEOs looking to grow in North Carolina, transportation is essential,” Cooper said in a statement released June 20. “Build NC is a bipartisan effort that pulled Republicans and Democrats together to help deliver critical transportation projects to communities more quickly, helping North Carolina attract opportunities and stay competitive.”