On a disappointing road

Sep. 15, 2013 @ 02:49 PM

Apparently, the definition of “local input” is open for rather broad interpretation when it comes to how the North Carolina Department of Transportation spends our tax dollars.

As The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg reported on Sunday, local input at the division and regional levels was a key selling point for Gov. Pat McCrory’s transportation spending reform plan this past summer.

But, thanks to state legislators failing to define “local,” DOT came up with its own definition, saying that the agency’s in-house engineers – who don’t necessarily live in communities that we would define as “local” - can “bridge across competing priorities.”

That’s pretty much how DOT did it before Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, helped champion House Bill 817, which he called a “new start.”

The bill called for local input to count for 30 percent say over use of funding at regional levels and 50 percent at the division level – a pot that contains about $900 million each year.

Instead, it seems like the legislation managed only to cast in stone the old way of doing things.

That didn’t set well with Brawley.

“I was working very closely with staff, other legislators and representatives of the governor’s office, and I was concentrating on how we should do it, not [on] how we’ve done it in the past,” Brawley said.

He’s “not certain how much local people consider a state employee to be ‘local’ input,” and rightly so. Those engineers, brilliant as they may be, aren’t answerable to a voting constituency.

So, this new road to progress appears to be nothing more than the old road with a fresh coat of asphalt.

Ellen Reckhow, a Durham County Commissioner who chairs the cross-county Transportation Advisory Committee, wants to revisit the plan because, she said, “It probably gives too much weight to the state.”

We have no doubt that she’s right on that point.

We also hope that Brawley’s true to his word when he talks about ensuring that the state will strive to get broad support and transparency in the process.

“The key is we must do a better job in the way we fund roads in North Carolina and in the way we allocate the money so people will have confidence their state government is spending their tax money well,” he said.

Too true, especially at a time when skepticism about government spending abounds.