The North Carolina Influencer Series

NC Influencers answer your questions about roads and public transit

The shoulder of westbound Interstate 40 just west of Wilmington gave way during Hurricane Florence.
The shoulder of westbound Interstate 40 just west of Wilmington gave way during Hurricane Florence. NCDOT

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The North Carolina Influencer series

The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun in Durham are launching a conversation between readers and important thought leaders throughout North Carolina.

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We asked readers what questions they had about transportation and infrastructure issues in the state. Based on their responses here is the question they wanted us to pose to the 60 NC Influencers: “Roads and bridges across the state need repair, the Triangle area needs public transit, and eastern NC needs more and better roads. How should NC respond and what should it prioritize?”

Here is a sampling of responses from the Influencers:

Bob Morgan, CEO Charlotte Chamber

“Increase the gas tax to help fund the upkeep and building of roads. Encourage the creative use of user fees — tolls — and P3s (public private partnerships). Get back in the game of helping to fund transit in urban areas. Allow local governments greater flexibility in funding transportation needs.”

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, NC Conference, United Methodist Church

“Transportation determines economic development or decline. Example: I-40 to Wilmington and US 64 to Dare County. The economic realities east and west of I-95 are stark. We bypass small business and deplete small communities while giving advantage to urban and resort areas.”

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Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

Sallie Shuping Russell, Former Managing Director, BlackRock Private Equity Partners

“I think it should prioritize better roads in eastern NC over public transit in the metro areas. For one thing, if at the roads and bridges break down — as they did in Hurricane Florence — then eastern NC is out of business for a long time. That is not responsible public policy”

Kit Cramer, CEO Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce

“Your Voice readers need to add Western North Carolina to that list. There will always be more needs than available dollars. We need to maintain a fair rubric for prioritizing transportation and infrastructure needs and work to fund them as best we can. We also need to think about options we’ve been less willing to consider previously, like the use of tolls to fund road improvements or more public-private partnerships to speed up the process.”

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Kit Cramer

Richard Sneed, Principal Chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

“A strategic plan to address the road issue should be developed. Funding could come from a nominal increase of the fuel tax.”

Jim Martin, Governor 1985-1993

“Complete the projects of the Highway Trust Fund (vintage 1989). Since gasoline tax revenues have declined due to gains in fuel efficiency, other highway aspects will need to be taxed. It should not come out of the General Fund, which is responsible for schools, environment and health, public safety, etc.”

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Jim Martin

Lew Ebert, CEO North Carolina Chamber

“North Carolina must continue investing in infrastructure. We’ve made progress in recent years, including the passage and implementation of a data-driven system (Strategic Transportation Investments legislation) to take the politics out of building roads, securing $1.12 billion in funding in 2015, and enacting Build NC this legislative session. However, our state still has much more to do to ensure that our infrastructure networks can support our state’s rapid growth. If North Carolina diversifies its revenue streams and increases infrastructure investment, NC DOT will be able to unlock and accelerate critical projects needed to improve deficiencies in every region of our state. As our connection to the global economy, it is imperative that we strengthen our state’s transportation infrastructure. North Carolina can’t afford to wait.”

Astrid Chirinos, Executive Director, Simmons YMCA

“Reassess priorities based on current reality models and not on past projections! Need to look at the next 50 years and create a nimble model in response.”

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Astrid Chirinos

Mike Easley, Governor, 2001-2009

“We do not have to have huge manufacturing plants in every county if we have transportation in rural areas connected to those jobs in the regional employment bases like Asheville, Fayetteville, Greenville and Wilmington. And urban congestion has to be controlled as a priority or we could lose our major economic powers and the revenue it provides.”

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Mike Easley

Pat McCrory, Governor 2013-2017, Charlotte mayor 1995-2009

“Continue to implement transportation strategy my administration started and got approved by legislators which does prioritize projects based upon need, not politics. Throughout (the) state.”

Bev Perdue, Governor, 2009-2013

“NC should do what has to be done just as others have done generation after generation before. We must invest in our people and our services. We must develop a plan and a priority list across the state with a funding stream and then STICK to it. Back in the ‘90s the Highway Trust Fund with bond funding was put in place by our voters. For several years the planned investments were made. But then, the powerful in the General Assembly began to change one project for another so they could have their pork and their way. I would suggest a brilliant light of transparency to show any tinkering with the plan for infrastructure. Social media can highlight the tinkering and perhaps for once there can be progress across the state.”

Dr. James Johnson, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School; director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center

“Given our rapid population and in order to remain an attractive place to live and do business, it becomes a strategic imperative to prioritize infrastructure investment in general. However, I think priority should be given to investment to rebuild eastern NC as a strategy to redirection economic growth and development in that direction. Continued growth at the current rate in the Triangle will likely do irreparable damage to the region’s environment.”

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Dr. James Johnson

Mark Vitner, Senior Economist, Wells Fargo

“Local municipalities need to have skin in the game and that means coming up with a substantial portion of the funding for needed infrastructure. What constitutes substantial varies by region, being greater in urban areas and less so in rural parts of the state.”

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Mark Vitner

Catherine Lawson, attorney, started the #MeAt14 campaign

“The Triangle and other quickly-growing urban centers already have a base of local civil and business leaders that can work together on development projects. They are adept at making their desires known at the state level. But the needs of rural North Carolina and historically under served communities would benefit more from strategic state-level planning. The projects that would benefit those communities have the potential of bringing about the greatest change and opening doors to more opportunity for more people around the state.”

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Catherine Lawson

Paul Cuadros, UNC associate professor, director UNC Scholars’ Latino Initiative

“North Carolina should respond with a general call to action after Hurricane Florence when it comes to infrastructure repair and replacement. The state should commission a review of our needs and prioritize projects. Providing transportation for the Triangle is an important addition to our infrastructure to maintain our desirability for new industries to invest in the state.”

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Paul Cuadros

Thomas Stith, Former Chief of Staff under Gov. Pat McCrory

“Our current transportation funding system was modified to prioritize our transportation funding for roads to prioritize spending in areas facing challenges from growth and this serves as a basis for our long term strategy. Transportation infrastructure needs exceed current funding so a “roads bond” that is voted on by the people would be an additional strategy to address our road/bridge requirements.”

Richard Vinroot, law partner, Charlotte mayor 1991-1995

“From what I experience — on I-77 north , and I-85 east, from Charlotte, it appears to me we’re doing a lot in this part of the state now. In addition, my recent trips down east make me believe roads are in good shape there as well (and historically, better and less traveled than in the west). Accordingly, I don’t believe we have needs in this area that aren’t being dealt with in a reasonable manner — east or west — at the present time.”

Dr. Laura Gerald, President, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

“In both urban and rural areas, we hear an outcry for the need for more public investment in transportation. The inability to access transportation is a major issue that keeps financially disadvantaged populations from accessing economic, educational, and health care opportunities to advance themselves.”

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Dr. Laura Gerald

Mike Rizer, Executive Vice President and Head of Community Relations at Wells Fargo

“While we’ve neglected our roads/bridges and need to invest in them, the state needs to take a longer view and invest more in public transit at a greater scale. With regard to prioritization, there ought to be a non political process to evaluate/prioritize/recommend which needs to address (if one doesn’t exist today).”

Liz Chen, Co-Founder of MyHealthEd

“All three of these projects should be funded. I believe that the state should prioritize repairing roads and bridges across the state first to make sure that all roads and bridges are structurally safe. Right now, 10 percent of NC bridges are structurally deficient. After, the state should improve the roads in Eastern North Carolina and consider plans for better public transit in the Triangle. Perhaps we can consider expanding public transit options outside of the Triangle as well so that North Carolinians without private transportation options can access resources and services in the Triangle.”

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Liz Chen

Dr. Kandi Deitemeyer, President, Central Piedmont Community College

“We have to invest to ensure that our infrastructure can support a viable economy in North Carolina including roads, bridges and the ports — throughout the state. This will also impact each communities local economy as well. Eastern NC has to be prioritized with better roads and an investment in infrastructure for the safety of these communities. Many times these communities suffer because of the lack of reliable roads and instability in the infrastructure from repeated crises.”

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Kandi Deitemeyer

Joan Zimmerman, CEO Southern Shows Inc.

“Bridges should be first priority; Roads next, and public transportation phased in among all priorities - keeping ahead, if possible, of the public’s willingness to give up their automobiles, or use them less. Ground work for all of these needs should start NOW ... buying right-of-ways, examining future growth predictions, accumulating funds for these projects . We all know the process — it just takes politicians who want these things to happen, more than they want to fill their own war chests.”

Randy Woodson, Chancellor NCSU

“The State has to consider all of these investments. Strengthening rural communities through improved infrastructure is part of the equation for their economic comeback; whereas, investments in urban centers like the Triangle is critical to the overall economic health of the State. If we lose the ability to compete for new employers and to retain existing employers, the tax-base of the State suffers and in the long run the overall economic viability of NC suffers.”

Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Justice (Ret.) N.C. Supreme Court; Vice Chair U.S. Civil Rights Commission

“North Carolina should respond to needed roads and bridges repair and improvement and needed public transit improvement and expansion. The priority should be existing roads and bridges maintenance, so as to ensure safety and preservation of our present transportation systems. This would mean that our businesses and the economic opportunities that rely on transportation of goods may continue. Another priority should be public transit aimed at reducing the number of vehicles on the road and the carbon emissions.”

Brooks Bell, CEO Brooks Bell, Inc.

“Prioritize the serious safety hazards first. Then, the worst roads, and then basic public transit in the Triangle (a major economic driver), and then circle around and work your way up the list.”

Walter Dalton, President, Isothermal Community College; Lt. Governor, 2009-2013

“It is good to know that the Piedmont and Mountains are no longer in need of more and better roads. The mountains, due to terrain and rock, have difficulty creating the redundancy needed to help traffic flow in drive times. I am sure those sitting on I-77 and I-485 in Charlotte and on I-26 and I-40 (dysfunction junction) in Asheville and the multiple roads projected for the Triad are happy to know that their needs are met. Also, those bypasses promised 30 and 40 years ago are still waiting to be addressed.

“However, I digress, and I know that I-95 and others have been in disrepair and significant deficiencies exist in road structure, but still better than many states. Transportation infrastructure is key and is an economic development issue. Time is indeed money. The Piedmont Crescent Corridor from Raleigh to Atlanta is one of the hottest economic development regions in the world and is projected to be so for many years, if it is not choked by traffic congestion.

“The incentives provided for mega companies would be better used to improve infrastructure and fund mass transit. This is really a federal issue, but should be addressed. Also more R and D on products that would help with this issue could pay huge dividends as mentioned previously. Regional planning to prioritize (See seven portals study by NCSU and Logistics Task Force recommendations) gives attention to every area of the state and focuses on economic prioritization of roads in the regions.”

How to participate

Your Voice is an ongoing conversation between readers, the 60 NC Influencers, and policy makers in our state. From now and until Election Day we’re asking readers what matters most to them about a particular policy issue. After readers weigh in online each week, we’ll hold a Your Voice vote to see which reader’s response resonates most. Then, we’ll put that question to the NC Influencers. To participate just click on the Your Voice link embedded in every Influencer series story.

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