NCDOT seeks public input on projects
by Anna Oakes
The N.C. Department of Transportation invites residents of NCDOT Division 11 to provide feedback on transportation priorities at an open house in North Wilkesboro Jan. 27.
The open house will be held from 4-7 p.m. at the Division 11 Office at 801 Statesville Road in North Wilkesboro. Division 11 includes Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin counties.
NCDOT -- working with area planning organizations -- will spend the next several months finalizing transportation projects to be submitted for state funding consideration as part of the State Transportation Improvement Program prioritization process that occurs every two years. The projects will be the first to be submitted under the new Strategic Mobility Formula signed into law in 2013.
Under the formula, state-level projects receive 40 percent of available funding ($6 billion), regional-level projects receive 30 percent of available funding ($4.5 billion) and the division level receives 30 percent of available funding ($4.5 billion) during the next 10 years.
The selection of projects for funding at the statewide level will be "100 percent data-driven," based on hard facts such as crash statistics and traffic volumes and factors such as economic competitiveness and freight movement, according to NCDOT.
But selections of projects at the regional and division level will be based on weighted formulas incorporating both data and rankings by the NCDOT divisions and area planning organizations. For regional consideration, Divisions 11 and 12 (Alexander, Iredell, Catawba, Lincoln, Cleveland and Gaston counties) are combined into one region.
Division 11 Senior Planning Engineer Dean Ledbetter said the Jan. 27 meeting aims to gather public input on new projects to be considered.
"Later in the process, we'll have an opportunity for the public to give us input as far as rankings of the projects," Ledbetter said.
The High Country Rural Planning Organization, which includes Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey, will also submit a list of new projects for STIP consideration, said David Graham, transportation planner. Among the proposed new projects -- developed by the RPO with input from county and municipal governments -- are several in Watauga County, including widened lanes and improved intersections at Bamboo and Wilson Ridge roads, a Beech Mountain Parkway walkway and the purchase of a new AppalCART bus. The Middle Fork Greenway and Boone Greenway Trail U.S. 421 underpass are also listed as "existing projects."
This spring, the projects will be scored by NCDOT, and the RPOs and the division will develop final priority lists for STIP consideration. The RPO and Division 11 will hold public hearings on the priority lists around May of this year, Graham and Ledbetter said.
Although the division and RPO submit separate lists, the organizations work together to ensure they are not duplicating efforts, Ledbetter explained.
"If there's a project we know the RPO is going to submit, we wouldn't submit it," he said.
Ledbetter said one of the most significant changes with the new Strategic Mobility Formula is the amount of funding designated for state-level projects, meaning a smaller portion is designated for division-level projects than in the past. However, depending on where projects selected for state- or regional-level funding are located, the division could end up receiving approximately the same amount of funding, he noted.
In addition, another significant difference is that all modes of transportation are considered together, including highway, aviation, rail, public transit, bicycle and pedestrian.
"All of those are being evaluated and competing against each other now instead of having separate funding sources," Ledbetter said. "A supporter of public transportation would want to make sure that their elected officials are prioritizing that once it comes down to giving points to the projects."
However, under its "Complete Streets" policy, once a highway project is selected for funding, NCDOT would determine whether bike lanes, sidewalks and other improvements would also be included, he noted.
Ledbetter said he wanted to make clear that the STIP prioritization process does not include funding for paving of secondary roads.
"This is not for having roadways paved -- this is for big projects," he said.
Previously, the state allocated funding for secondary road paving based on the miles of unpaved roads in each county, but state leaders have since reduced the amount of funding available for these projects, he said.
Residents can submit transportation project suggestions through Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. via email at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or regular mail at STI, P.O. Box 250, North Wilkesboro, NC 28659.
information or to request Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations for the Jan. 27 meeting,
contact Ledbetter at (336) 903-9129 or (email@example.com) To view a list of projects already
proposed in Watauga County, visit http://www.ncdot.gov/projects and select Watauga.