RALEIGH, N.C. — As federal stimulus money exits Washington and merges into North Carolina, the wheels will begin to roll on 70 different road projects statewide.
Of the $6.1 billion the state will receive, $838 million is dedicated to highways, bridges, ferry transit and rail projects – but the 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway, an extension of Interstate 540 in Wake County, , is not one of them.
"That's a billion-dollar project," state Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said. "We're getting $838 million. Even if we took all that money to the project, it still wouldn't work."
State law would not the state Department of Transportation to put it all toward one project anyway.
Federal funds must be distributed across the state. Also, stimulus money comes with strict rules.
"We had 120 days in which to obligate the money, and we had to have projects ready to go," Conti said.
David Joyner, executive director of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, says the 540 project is ready to move forward, but the authority is waiting to sell bonds that would be repaid with toll revenues.
The slumping economy has delayed selling the bonds, but Joyner said he hopes that will happen within the next few weeks. If so, crews could begin construction within the next 60 to 90 days.
"The only thing we need is a suitable level of finance from bond markets, which are upside down right now," Joyner said.
While the Triangle Expressway is on hold, a stretch of I-540 from Interstate 40 to U.S. Highway 70, however, will be repaved using $4 million from the stimulus package. DOT officials say it is considered to be necessary maintenance and that it fits the stimulus money rules.
Some toll road opponents had hoped the federal stimulus money could replace the need for toll revenue. Turnpike officials say that's not in the plans.