Bertie commissioners hear DOT report

Published 10:41 am Tuesday, July 28, 2015

INDIAN WOODS – A couple of citizens brought up road issues within the county during public comments at the Bertie County Commissioner’s meeting last week at the Blue Jay Fire Department in Indian Woods.

While solutions may or may not be in the near future, at least their concerns fell on the right ears.

NC Department of Transportation Division I Maintenance Engineer Sterling Baker was on hand to deliver a report to the Board and took note of the citizens’ interests.

Division I of DOT serve the state’s 14 northeastern-most counties in the state consisting of Bertie, Hertford, Gates, Northampton, Martin, Tyrell, Washington, Dare, Hyde, Chowan, Camden, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans counties.

It was Baker’s first appearance since the new Board had been sworn in and much as they had changes, so has DOT.

“We want to come to you to give you an FYI on our fiscal standpoint and where we stand, and instead of the secondary road construction program we’ll be giving you a three-year update on the re-surfacing program,” Baker said.

NCDOT has an annual operating budget of more than $4 billion with funding coming from three primary sources: the Highway Fund, the Highway Trust Fund and federal funds.

“Primary funding five years ago we were looking at $11.7 million and just this past year we were at $8.9 million,” Baker stated. “Based on early projections we’ll be lucky to get between 5 and 6 million.”

Secondary road maintenance also has lost roughly $3 million in funding in the last five years, and Baker said DOT funding reserves were used up on secondary road construction during the same period; and that funding today stands at zero.

Bridge maintenance has fared better, budget wise; fluctuating in funding both primary and secondary bridge upkeep.  Funding for the last year was $1.9 million and $1.5 million, respectively.

Lest the DOT funding story for the region seem dire to the casual observer, primary road re-surfacing and secondary road re-surfacing have both gone up: from $11.4 million in 2010 to near $15 million this past year for primary re-tarring and up from $7.8 million to almost $13 million in 2014-15.

“And if the legislative proposal goes thru, you’ll see that increase even more,” Baker said.

Bertie County’s numbers, out of the 14 counties in the Division, are pretty much reflecting the same tangent on the same scale as the other counties when taken as a whole.  Primary and secondary maintenance in the county has decreased; there’s no funding for secondary road construction and bridge maintenance has fluctuated.

“You’ll see those up-and-down all over the place,” Baker says. “Every two years they’re higher and every year in between they’re lower because our federal bridge program requires us to inspect the bridges every two years; so the years we’re in the county we have a lot of things to do in between.  It’s kind of cyclical. And that funding per county goes up and down every year.”

Primary and secondary resurfacing funding for Bertie County has nearly doubled over the past five years; and both are expected to go up with the 2015-16 budget.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory wants the state’s voters to decide this fall on a $3 billion bond referendum plan to borrow money to fund highway projects and fix up state facilities with a project he has dubbed “Connect NC”.

The amount of the bonds is believed to be $1.5 billion each, both larger than McCrory called for in his State of the State speech in February. He said then that each bond would range from $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion.

It’s believed the higher amount would give state agencies more flexibility while keeping the state well within its debt capacity.

While both the House and Senate must approve any referendum plan, the Bertie Commissioners wondered how much would be earmarked for new buildings versus road projects.

“A good bit of that money is reportedly supposed to go to infrastructure needs,” said Bertie Commission chairman Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson. “But it’s a little bit non-specific exactly where (the bond money) is going to go.

Wesson said he believes the money would go to complete the loop of US-17 from Washington to Martin County near Williamston and a few other major projects.  But he emphasized that the accountability on where it will specifically be spent has not been made public.

“So this is not including what is proposed,” Wesson asked.

Baker said the DOT maintenance and operations budget had nothing to do with the bond referendum.

“These are the yearly re-occurring funds we get every year to re-surface, do the shoulder-work, ditching, striping, and everything you see the yellow trucks do,” Baker said. “Everything besides the re-surfacing pretty much funds the yellow trucks.”

Wesson further asked about specific projects in the Bertie area that would receive funding if the bond referendum passes.

“There is a project list,” Baker said. “But I don’t remember any specific projects in Bertie County. There wasn’t a lot in Division I at all.”

Baker said that if the bond referendum passes some of the infrastructure funding that would be going for buildings.

“Instead of DOT having new buildings I think when it got to that section all the money was designated for the (state) Ports, “Baker reasoned. “$50 million was left for various paving of dirt roads; if they were going to get $50 million it would be for that.”

Baker said ‘off-the-top’ funding items out of Bertie’s maintenance budget included guardrail repairs, mowing, traffic signals, and $51,000 for San Souci ferry operation and contract, that totaled $458,000 out of $2.3 million.

Baker said efficiency was the top priority in spending within the Division.

The Maintenance chief also shared the Division’s three-year re-surfacing plan, as required by the General Assembly, which was approved by DOT last spring.

“We get a lot of calls from Commissioners across the whole Division over their constituents inquiring about where (work on) certain roads stands.” Baker stated. “Resurfacing calls for an inch-and-a-half of asphalt or more, and re-treatment is the rock-and-tar treatment.  80 percent of that is contracted.”

Baker said with the current allocation, DOT crews could not handle all the required re-paving and re-surfacing, so it’s contracted out.  He said anything on the list would get paved, re-surfaced, or re-treated.

“We’re already compiling next year’s list,��� he said.

The Commissioners inquired about the priority of road improvements and Baker said that comes from updating pavement condition surveys.

“When we run (the data) thru Raleigh it comes out with recommended treatments,” Baker said. “Sometimes we follow them and sometimes we don’t because conditions can be different once you’re out in the field. We do use it as a tool based on people’s knowledge of local conditions in the county as well as the survey.”

The Commissioners reviewed the DOT list, which is available on the county’s website.

“We get a lot of questions, and this gives us an answer of what to tell them,” said Commissioner Tammy Lee.