Road projects funding in question
by Staff Writer
by Brian Carlton
CHARLOTTE – Planned road projects in the Lake Norman area could get pushed back years with changes coming to the regional transportation authority.
State and federal funding for road projects goes to North Carolina Department of Transportation divisions, which give local boards the authority to determine which projects get priority. Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson all belong to the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, a collection of 14 cities and towns.
As a result of the 2010 Census, the towns of Mooresville, Troutman, Statesville and Marshville will be added to the list, along with unincorporated portions of Iredell and Lincoln counties.
“We took in Mooresville, but we didn’t expect to be taking in so much when we got the census data,” Stallings Mayor and MUMPO Vice Chair Lynda Paxton said.
The new members bring multiple issues, including the question of how projects will be ranked for funding. Currently, the MUMPO region has more than 300 projects listed and funding for less than half of those. Each additional town brings in a new list of projects, with planning already started in some cases.
“The initial combining of the (project list) will be the hardest,” MUMPO Secretary Bob Cook said. “You have projects already ongoing that have to be sequenced in. There are a number of tasks we’ll have to undertake to bring in the new communities.”
As a result, MUMPO has to rewrite its charter, Cook said.
A committee including Huntersville Commissioner Sarah McAulay and Huntersville Transportation Director Bill Coxe will look at everything from the group’s name to the number of votes each town gets. Votes are weighted by population, with one vote from Charlotte counting the same as 16 votes from other towns. Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Monroe and Mecklenburg and Union counties each have two votes and the remaining towns have one.
The census data placed Huntersville at a point where it might be eligible for a change as well as in Indian Trail in Union County.
There could also be a change in the cost to belong to the organization and how those dues are paid. Right now, MUMPO collects a total of $150,000 from the cities and towns, which goes to pay the group’s salaries and operating cost.
“Right now, it’s paid between counties,” Coxe said. “You take the total amount of dollars spent (in projects), then you decide how much of that went to road projects in Mecklenburg and how much in Union. If say 75 percent of the projects were in Mecklenburg, then Union would only pay 25 percent of the $150,000.”
Coxe said in Mecklenburg, the cost gets divided based on the number of votes a town has. For example, Huntersville has two votes, Coxe said, so if the total comes down to $2,000 per vote, the town would pay $4,000.
More money, more projects
Cook said the region could get some extra federal funding as a result of the new towns coming in. The problem is that MUMPO members have to determine which projects take priority and what gets approved before they find out how much they’ll get from the government.
President Barack Obama signed a new transportation projects funding bill into law July 6, but it could be next year before regional leaders know how much money will be coming. Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration has set a deadline of March 27, 2013, for the changes to MUMPO to be complete.
As the MUMPO committee moves forward with planning, members representing the new areas will be invited to take part. MUMPO members voted July 18 to allow one representative each for unincorporated Iredell and Lincoln counties, along with one person to represent all of the towns involved.
“At the end of the day, they’ve got to ratify it,” McAulay said of the new towns. “I feel like they should be part of the discussions and asked to participate.”
Charlotte representative David Howard echoed her comments, pointing out that the committee would be wasting time if it didn’t create a document everyone would sign off on.