Friday, February 27, 2009

Bev and I-485: How will she do it?

So, how is it that under the Easley administration the completion of the last remaining unbuilt segment of Interstate 485 around Charlotte could not begin until 2015, but under Gov. Bev Perdue it will start later this year?

A couple things. Mike Easley isn't governor anymore. Bev Perdue is governor, and she gets to shift the state's agenda, pursue different policies than her predecessor and adopt different priorities. The changes at the state Department of Transportation, where she has moved to make its powerful Board of Transportation more a planning agency and less a decision-maker on roads projects, are prime examaples.

Second, Perdue has something that Easley did not have: an opportunity to take advantage of federal stimulus funds. While the amount that might become available for I-485 may not be nearly enough to pay for the remainder of the project, it may be enough to launch the process by the end of this year if the project can be pulled together in time to qualify for the 12-month "shovel-ready" projects window, says Perdue aide Dave Kochman. "We may have an announcement on that within 45 days," he says.

Other projects in the Charlotte area were determined to be shovel-ready within 120 days and thus qualified for the first round of construction. As the Observer's Steve Harrison and Lisa Zagaroli pointed out the other day, initial stimulus funding will pay for $17 million in improvements to N.C. 218, from I-485 to U.S. 74, $4.7 million for a new bridge on N.C. 73 over Long Creek in Stanly County, $3 million for resurfacing I-85 in Cabarrus County, $8.3 million for widening N.C. 51 south of Pineville and $5.6 million for S.R. 1542 in Stanly County.

It's not clear yet how much stimulus money will be available for the I-485 project, which could require about $120 million for construction of five miles of the highway, plus $100 million for an interchange with I-85. One analysis estimates that Charlotte would get about $35 million in stimulus money for the I-485 project, but the Perdue administration will probably be pressing for more for that project as well as for replacing the Yadkin River bridge on I-85, a top priority for Perdue. One potential source of I-485 funding may be a $180 million pot of money set aside for the Monroe Connector/Bypass, Harrison and Zagaroli reported.

Whether the I-485 project can be completed within three years is a question that will be answered by the availability of state and federal funds, of course. But Perdue's willingness to move the project's schedule up and go to bat for more funding is a dramatic turnaround for a project that many thousands of area drivers have lost a lot of teeth enamel fretting about. And Perdue may have an incentive. Near the end of that three-year window, she'll be running for re-election. Completion of I-485 -- or even significant progress that tells motorists the project will be done within the forseeable future -- would be a big bragging point in that campaign.

13 comments:

Jonathan Lee Sink said...

It will still be absolutely shocking if the work to complete I-485 starts later this year. Bev is all talk, but if she were smart(which she's not at all) she would actually look out for Charlotte so that she could actually get more votes in 2012. So, I'll believe it when I see the trucks and workers out there completing the project.

Anonymous said...

Bev is just worried she'll face Pat McCrory in a rematch in 2012 when a huge black turnout for Obama voting straight Democrat and a repressed Republican turnout because of anger with Bush won't be factors. Its politics pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

If Bev Perdue comes through on this promise, she won't have to worry about Pat McCrory or anyone else in 2012. The Outer Belt has been on the board since around the time I was born, and to get it finished some years ahead of the planned completion date will be a huge feather in her cap. And if she authorizes widening of I-85 through Cabarrus County, and/or the rebuilding of the Yadkin River Bridge over I-85 at the Davidson/Rowan line, they might just rename the state after her.

Anonymous said...

Why should Perdue be concerned about Meck voters? She virtually ignored them and still won them against a very popular mayor from the city.

She'll talk, there will be some movement, then a sudden, drastic, unavoidable setback, followed by more roads money out in the hinterlands. She'll have done everything she could for Meck voters, but, goshdarn it, that evil George W. Bush stopped her from doing it.

And, no, to your average Meck voter, the fact Bush 43 will have been out of office for years won't even register.

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