Greenville, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday rolled out his administration's plan to help ensure North Carolina has the transportation infrastructure it needs for a growing population in the next generation.
McCrory and state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata barnstormed across the state to provide an overview of the "Mapping Our Future" 25-year plan, stopping in Wilmington and Greenville in the morning and Winston-Salem and Asheville in the afternoon.
"This is a statewide plan," McCrory told an audience in Greenville, saying that he hopes to emulate the impact President Dwight Eisenhower had by launching the nationwide interstate highway system.
The Republican governor wanted such a blueprint before he was elected governor, saying the city of Charlotte had one while he was mayor.
Transportation spending already has changed dramatically since he was sworn in. The legislature passed a law in 2013 laying out a new formula for determining how and where highway funding would be spent.
"The decision of where we built our infrastructure was based more on politics as opposed to need," McCrory said of the old funding formula. The new Mobility Fund "is based on putting infrastructure where we can create jobs, where there is congestion and where we can save lives because of safety."
Tata said the changed formula will allow the state to undertake twice as many projects – 360 versus 175 – in the 10-year plan coming out next year when compared with the current plan.
Together with a $1 billion bond that the McCrory administration hopes to push through the General Assembly next year for 22 other projects to boost connectivity outside metro areas, he said the Mobility Fund could create 70,000 jobs statewide by tying areas of North Carolina together more closely.
"The real challenge in our state, because we're so diverse, is not just the geographic challenge but the demographics," he said. "We've got smaller towns that need better connections to the larger cities, and we have urban areas that are growing so fast that they are outpacing the highway's ability to keep up."
McCrory said Tata and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker have studied the transportation and economic needs of each region statewide to devise a priority list of infrastructure needs. In eastern North Carolina, for example, the 25-year plan calls for expanding U.S. Highway 70 from Interstate 95 to the coast to speed freight to and from the port at Morehead City – the governor also wants the port dredged and widened – and tourists to and from Crystal Coast beaches.
In the Triangle, the plan's overview calls for expanding mass transit and relieving traffic congestion. In the northeast corner of the state, the governor said he wants highways connecting to Norfolk, Va., which has a major port and presents an economic opportunity for the rural counties.
"It's a regional issue," McCrory said. "This is not a city, town or county issue. These are regional issues that do not recognize political boundaries."
Because gas tax revenue into the Highway Trust Fund is shrinking as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and people switch to hybrid and electric cars, McCrory and Tata said North Carolina needs to come up with different revenue sources to carry out the estimated $94 billion infrastructure plan. Tata said he wants to expand public-private partnerships and limit the state's reliance on federal highway funding, which could get held up by congressional gridlock.
"We were at risk of 108 projects and $1 billion not coming to us because Congress did not sort it out," Tata said. "The more that we can be self-reliant, the better off we are."
McCrory added that he would continue pushing for the federal highway dollars to which North Carolina is entitled.