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DOT playing favorites? Some think so

Posted December 23, 2008 6:20 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:11 p.m. EDT

— Are state leaders playing favorites when it comes to allocating funding for highway projects in some cities?

A Charlotte transportation official and a Wake County commissioner seem to think so.



In a Dec. 5 letter to President-elect Obama, R. Lee Myers, chairman of the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, asks the incoming administration to freeze all federal funding to North Carolina for highway projects, saying an investigation into the state's Board of Transportation and transportation officials is needed.

Myers accuses Department of Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett and Democratic majority leader Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, of showing favoritism in a recent decision to allocate $275 million in funding over the next six years for the future Interstate 295 outer loop in Fayetteville.

Both Tippett and Rand are from the Fayetteville area.

In comparison, Charlotte received $104 million over the next six years for the Interstate 485 loop, and Raleigh received $5 million for the Interstate 540/N.C. Highway 540 loop.

I-295 is projected to have about 30,000 vehicles per day traveling on it by 2020, Myers said.

Traffic on the completed portion of I-485, is "unbelievably congested" at 120,000 vehicles a day, Myers said. The uncompleted portion, he said, is projected to have approximately 130,000 vehicles a day by 2030.

Myers said the decision is political and, although legal, is far from being a "systematic distribution of funding."

"The failure to require a more just and fair system is the fault of the North Carolina Legislature," Myers writes. "However, insofar as federal funding is concerned, this is your opportunity to bring about a significant change in the way the federal government does business."

Wake County Commissioner Joe Bryan agrees.

"We've got to start prioritizing in this type of economic situation we're in now," Bryan said. "I have no idea of their personal involvement in this. That's a decision by the Board of Transportation. Whatever the case is, I think the public can figure it out for themselves."

Rand denies any favoritism, saying funding has been distributed fairly.

Through 2008, I-485 received $1.05 billion, and I-540 received $757 million. I-295 received $66 million.

"When you look where the money's spent, it's obvious we haven't taken advantage of the situation in any improper way," Rand said. "It's obvious we waited in line."

To complete Raleigh's loop, the DOT says toll roads are necessary.

DOT says that because of Fort Bragg's growth, Fayetteville needs and deserves the funding.

"It's going to challenge our schools, challenge every bit of infrastructure we have, and highways are a huge part of that," Rand said.

It's unclear how Obama will respond.

As for the state's new administration, Governor-elect Beverly Perdue says one of her top priorities is to transform the Board of Transportation.

"I do not want them approving individual roads," Perdue said. "I want to depoliticize how roads and bridges and maintenance is done in the state."