State Politics

Should local leaders have more sway over road projects? NC House bill would give them more power

Rep. John Torbett
Rep. John Torbett

Local leaders would have more influence over local road funding decisions under an N.C. House bill that cleared a committee Tuesday.

House Bill 81 was approved by the House Transportation Committee and would tweak the state’s formula for evaluating transportation projects.

The bill would give more weight to the priorities of county and municipal officials that review proposed projects through metropolitan and regional planning organizations, while reducing the weight of N.C. Department of Transportation division engineers’ recommendations in the process.

“There’s a political element involved in this, as to a certain extent, we have to accept that the input of the locals on a local-only road should have more weight than data,” said Rep. Bill Brawley, a Mecklenburg County Republican. “There is a certain art to this and not pure science.”

Brawley added that the road projects that local residents want in their area “may not be the absolute optimal solution for traffic.”

The proposed change in the formula would affect only local and regional projects, not the major highway projects classified as “statewide.” State transportation officials would still base decisions on big projects entirely on data.

The formulas are part of the 2013 Strategic Transportation Investments law that aimed to take politics out of road funding decisions by using objective criteria to rank proposed transportation projects.

Rep. John Torbett, the Gaston County Republican who sponsored HB 81, said he’s still a strong supporter of the Strategic Transportation Investments approach.

“It is our constitution of infrastructure in North Carolina, but our STI law will need to be amended as time goes on,” he said.

The bill now heads to the House floor.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter