Local News

DOT stimulus spending can differ across state

Posted September 14, 2009 6:26 p.m. EDT
Updated September 14, 2009 7:02 p.m. EDT

North Carolina has approximately $735 million in federal stimulus funding earmarked for highway and bridge improvement projects and $103 million in transit projects.

In Wake County, for example, a $2.5 million repaving job on Interstate 540 is under way between Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 70

Interstate 440 also had a recent renovation, as did U.S. Highway 64.

But not everyone is happy that these projects are being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"It just doesn't seem like it needed to be done," said Brenda Talton, a local real estate appraiser who regularly drives on U.S. 64. "The same type of ride we have today was the ride we had before it was paved – no cracks at all."

She, as well as other taxpayers, has expressed concerns to WRAL News and the North Carolina Department of Transportation about the stimulus money being wasted.

But Wally Bowman, a division engineer who oversees DOT projects in seven counties, including Wake and Durham, says there is a need for the projects and that doing them now can help save the state money in the future.

"Those roads need to be resurfaced, whether the people actually see the failures that are occurring there," Bowman said. "We spend a dollar today, that's $3 to $5 we don't have to spend if we get in real bad shape."

He says that when a motorist drives 65 to 70 mph on a roadway, it can sometimes be difficult to see cracks in the road. But they are there, he says, and it is critical to catch them early.

For example, in the winter, water can freeze in the cracks and lead to potholes.

Not all the stimulus dollars for highway and bridge projects, however, has to be used to repave or resurface roadways. But all of them did have to be ready to go up for a bid by June and the funding has to be committed within a year.

How the funding is distributed and what the projects are among the state's 14 divisions can also differ.

For example, Bowman's division – Division 5, which consists of Wake, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Person, Vance and Warren counties – decided to spend most of its portion of stimulus funds resurfacing dozens of roads in all seven counties.

Wake County is estimated to get roughly $46 million; Durham, $17.5 million; and Franklin, nearly $10 million. The remaining four counties are likely to get between $1.5 and $3.8 million.

Other divisions have different approaches.

According to the DOT, Division 6, which includes Cumberland, Bladen and Harnett counties, decided to pour 98 percent of its stimulus money into the Fayetteville Outer Loop.

That means Cumberland County will see about $55 million; Bladen, nearly $1 million and Harnett $250,000. Columbus and Robeson counties will receive nothing.

Statewide, 16 counties are likely to be left out of the mix of highway and bridge stimulus money.

"(We're) not saying it's right, not saying it's wrong. We just decided that in our division, we wanted to spread it out," Bowman said. "So, we have a good cross section of projects."

Driving along one of those newly resurfaced projects, Talton still remains skeptical.

"One-third of your income is going toward taxes. That in itself is frustrating, so when you see those taxes being spent on what might not look like a good manner, it's just frustrating," she said."