Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Funding I77: A question of political will, not money

Interesting numbers on transportation in the just released Senate budget proposal...

From the Carolina Journal...

The Senate proposal also eliminates a $215 million annual transfer from the Highway Fund to the General Fund to pay for the Highway Patrol. Senate leaders say this change, plus the additional $100 million a year additional income from DMV fees would provide sufficient funds for highway construction, thus eliminating the need for a $1.5 billion transportation bond package proposed by McCrory.

“The idea on transportation is that rather than borrow a billion or billion-and-a-half dollars, we could put $300-plus million annually — additional dollars — into transportation,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. “The feeling was we could build the projects that are not being built presently and do it without borrowing money.”

Now, Governor Pat certainly can't like that at all.  He and his team have been running around the state giving the hard sell on his bond package.

Hardly a day goes by where some email blast lands in the ol' inbox talking about the virtues of his bond propisal, but it appears the NC Senate doesn't see it that way.

What the Senate proposal does show is that transportation funding can be achieved if the correct priorities are in place and there is the political will to implement those priorities.

Through a few strokes of the budget pen, they came up with $315 million per year in new money.

Now let's look at that from the perspective of the I77 HOT Lanes project.

How much is $315m/yr over the 50 year life of  the HOT lanes?

Answer: Over $15 billion.

How much is the true funding gap if the current HOT Lanes plan was converted to general purpose lanes or even one new GP lane and an extension of the current HOV lane while still spending the state dollars committed directly to the HOT project?

Answer:  $655m total cost - $95m direct state input - $75m DRAM committment - roughly $80m in "bonus funds" being spent to directly help the HOT lanes project - $50m in toll collection costs not needed for a non-toll project leaves a $355m funding gap.

The Senate's proposed new budget just found nearly that much in the couch cushions.

And the State means to tell one of the areas that is a major economic engine the only way to widen the road is to suck billions of dollars out of the local economy over the next 50 years rather than using a tiny percentage of the billions they just "found" to achieve the same thing?

That's not a money problem.  That's a political will problem.

Update: A reader sent in this comment...

"We need to stop the apples-to-apples comparison because we don't need an apple, we need a grape."

That's a good point.  What has been proposed by NCDOT is a "kitchen sink" type of project.  It's  more than what's needed to solve the problem with goodies like new bridges and new exits thrown in to jack up the cost to attract companies like Cintra and buy political support from some local politicians.

The point of this piece is that even when you accept those unnecessary pre-conditions this is not as much of a money problem.

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