At a forum hosted by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance on Jan. 9, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger discussed a host of issues leading up to the 2023 legislative session, which began on Jan. 11. And transportation issues were front and center in the conversation, including how to “modernize” highway funding beyond reliance on gasoline taxes, as well as criticism of Charlotte’s Transit Plan.
Berger and Moore discussed how gas tax revenues have not been able to keep up with population growth and more fuel-efficient vehicles and said that solving this issue is something Democrats and Republicans agree on. At the moment, money is being taken from the General Fund and being sent to the Highway Fund and Highway Trust fund to fill the gaps, but they said legislative leaders wanted to find more stable funding sources.
In comments to Carolina Journal Randy Brechbiel, a spokesman for Berger, said N.C. will need to “modernize” the funding formula by broadening what kinds of purchases provide taxes for transportation, to include not just gasoline but other transportation-related sales.
“This new funding model is meant to modernize NCDOT’s revenue sources,” said Brechbiel. “The department is being pinched by declining gas tax revenue. Allowing for the transfer of sales tax revenue — from transportation-related purchases — will alleviate some of that financial stress, and comes with no additional cost to the taxpayer. Lawmakers will continue studying how to keep transportation funding in line with current consumer trends and government subsidies.”
The outlook for transportation modernization and improvements has been laid out through the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The STIP is a multi-year capital improvement document that denotes the scheduling and funding of construction projects across the state over a minimum 4-year time period, as required by Federal law.
North Carolina’s STIP covers a 10-year period, with the first six years (2020-2025 in this version) referred to as the delivery STIP and the latter four years (2026-2029 in this version) as the developmental STIP. The plan identifies transportation projects that will receive funding between 2020 and 2029, and is made up of 1,718 projects, including 399 non-highway projects, in every county across the state.
CJ spoke with Aaron Moody, a spokesman for the NC Department of Transportation, who outlined how the STIP will affect the future of transportation throughout the state.
“Determining how funding will impact specific projects at NCDOT is difficult to do,” Moody said. “Ultimately all of that funding is going to go into the larger funding mechanisms we have in place to fund capital maintenance and operations here at DOT. The projects are still prioritized using a data driven, legally mandated process called prioritization. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s modernizing transportation funding which is certainly something we appreciate any time our state and federal leaders can consider ways to fund transportation in North Carolina.”
Moody added that the department abides by funding allocations set forth by the state legislature: “Percentages of how funding is allocated may change based on decisions made by the legislature. All that really does on our end is dictate the percentage of the overall funding that either goes towards capital projects or for maintenance and operations.”
Speaker Moore also spoke at length during the forum about concerns he has regarding Charlotte’s proposed transit plan, which will cost $13.5 billion and will require the General Assembly to back a one-cent sales tax increase. In his remarks, Moore expressed reservations about supporting a plan that he deems as inadequate and should be focused on road capacity.
“I think we really need to be looking at road construction,” WFAE quoted Moore as saying in his remarks. “If you get out and you drive anywhere and 95% of people are driving a car, they are not riding a bike. They are not riding a bus. I think bus ridership after COVID is at abysmally low levels.”
Charlotte’s transit plan allocates funding for 90 miles of new rapid-transit corridors (light rail and commuter rail), 140 miles of bus route enhancements, 115 new miles of greenways, 75 miles of on-street bike lanes, and 60 miles of road improvements.