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Local NCDOT Projects Face Delays Among Statewide Funding Issues

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Aug 2, 2019

Area NCDOT projects are being eyed for delays as the state faces the costs of Map Act settlements and recuperates funds spent because of Hurricane Florence.

In New Hanover County alone, there are about 10 projects that could be delayed, from one to three years in some cases, to "offset some of these costs that are occurring," said Chad Kimes, deputy division engineer for N.C. Department of Transportation's Division 3 region, which includes New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

The impacts are happening statewide, he said Friday.

Unanticipated impacts to NCDOT coffers include $398 million in hurricane costs from July 1, 2016 to date, $71 million in snow response costs, and $290 million in Map Act settlements as of July 20, according to NCDOT.

Kimes said increasing construction costs also are a strain.

Kimes detailed the costs -- and potential delays in roadwork because of them -- during a presentation this week at a board meeting of the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO).

The N.C. Department of Transportation is faced with a “cash flow balance” issue due to these impacts, Kimes said.

“Hurricane Florence took a toll on our available cash balance. So by our state requirements … we have to have a minimum checking account of $250 million," he explained. "And when the hurricane hit, and some of the other items … such as the Map Act settlements [and] snow events, that took anywhere from about $700 million out of our cash balances, and we generally keep anywhere from $250 [million] and $750 [million] in our balance.

“There's money going in too. But that just took us to a place where we've had to delay some projects, so we could build that cash back up so we can start letting projects. We’re still going to let projects. They’re just reducing the amount we are letting," Kimes said following the WMPO board meeting.

Kimes said Friday that those costs associated with Map Act settlements could still change.

Some landowners in New Hanover and Pender counties have pursued litigation involving the Map Act, which allowed the NCDOT to record maps of future corridors to limit development on land needed for transportation projects.

Projects that will be impacted by the funding issues are slated to be "clearly identified" next week, Kimes said, when the state transportation board will meet and is slated to receive a draft of the State Transporation Improvement Program (STIP) Prioritization 5.0 plan, Kimes said.

Projects within STIP are part of a long-range plan for funding and construction. Currently, the state is working on its draft for the current cycle for 2020-29, Kimes said.

Projects currently under construction will not be impacted by the expected delays, he said. Those that could face a delay include some projects on Market Street, as well as the Kerr Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway interchange, and others on College Road, such as the interchange planned at College Road and Oleander Drive.

The chosen projects and their scheduled adjustments will be in the draft STIP plan state transportation board members see next week. The ones under review were ones set to go out for bids in the earlier part of that upcoming 5.0 plan.

The delayed projects list, however, is still being considered and no finalizations have been made, Kimes added.

Even if projects within the STIP 5.0 plan get delayed, the region's division is still proceeding with designs and right-of-way acquisitions so that projects can move forward if the state, for example, receives federal reimbursements from the hurricane, Kimes said. 

Just this week, FEMA and the state announced that more than $1.8 million in funds will help NCDOT cover Hurricane Florence-related expenses related to emergency response and protective measures during the September storm.

"The measures included temporary vehicle equipment relocation, directing traffic flow and providing emergency access for Brunswick, Duplin, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender and Sampson counties," stated the FEMA release.

One major project that will not face delays, however, is the Hampstead Bypass.

That project has been identified as a priority, Kimes said, adding that division has made some adjustments to ensure that the bypass will open up to traffic on schedule.

Two sections of the Hampstead Bypass, which was already placed on an accelerated schedule, were slated to go out for bid at the same time, Kimes said. Now, the larger project portion of the bypass, which extends from N.C. 210 to north of Hampstead and includes three interchanges, will go out for bid first in 2020.

The other portion of the project, connecting the U.S. 17 Wilmington Bypass to N.C. 210, is now planned to go out for bid in 2022.

The two sections of the Hampstead Bypass "will still be open at the same time, as it would have if we let them together, which will be 2025," Kimes said. 

“I can't express enough how that is one of our biggest priorities. The connectivity that it's going to provide is just huge for this region,” he said.

The drafted STIP plan the state transportation board will get at its meeting next week was initially formed in January and has been revised, Ray McIntyre, STIP manager with NCDOT, said Friday. The board will be asked to adopt STIP 5.0 at a meeting in September, he added.

"We’re going to continue to get any comments over the next few weeks before asking the board for approval," McIntyre said of the ongoing public comment period.

This is a delay from the plan's previous schedule, which was slated for approval this summer.

STIP plans are updated every two years to “reflect the state’s current financial situation,” according to NCDOT’s website. The cycle started in summer 2017 when NCDOT's "divisions and local planning organizations gathered public feedback on projects, which then were submitted for evaluation and scoring."

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect updated figures from NCDOT in hurricane costs, snowstorm response and Map Act settlements. 

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