Wednesday, February 17, 2010

NC wins "honorable mention" grant for Yadkin bridge

Might the N.C. DOT have made a bad call in applying for $300 million in stimulus money to rebuild the Yadkin River bridge on I-85, instead of using the opportunity to try to snag more mass transit money? DOT Secretary Gene Conti doesn't think so.

The grants - made public Wednesday - were part of the $1.5 billion in so-called TIGER Grant funding, for transportation projects, all part of the federal stimulus bill. North Carolina got $10 million for the Yadkin bridge project.

Here's a complete breakdown from the U.S. DOT.

I just hung up from a phone interview with Conti, who said in total, 10 projects from North Carolina were submitted, including a request from Charlotte and the Metropolitan Transit Commission to fund the proposed-but-got-no-money commuter rail line between downtown and Davidson. Conti said N.C. projects were worth $845 million. Across the country, he said, $57 billion worth of projects were requested.

Looking at the projects that got the big bucks – and it's worth remembering that when you're talking transportation projects, $1.5 billion really isn't very much to spread around the country – transit and multimodal and rail projects seem to have done better than highway projects. The organization Reconnecting America did a breakdown: highway projects received 23 percent of funding, while transit projects 26 percent, multimodal projects received 25 percent, rail projects won 19 percent and ports 7 percent.

Note that a $45 million streetcar project in New Orleans won – $45 million. A $58 million downtown streetcar project in Dallas, Texas, got $23 million. Tucson, Ariz., got $63 million for a $150 million, 4-mile streetcar line.

You'll see some language on the US DOT document, if you read it, about North Carolina being eligible for "optional innovative financing enhancements to support a direct loan for up to one-third of the project costs." I asked Conti what that meant. "That's a good question," he said ruefully. It means, he said, that N.C. could cash in the $10 million now for a $100 million loan. But without a revenue stream to repay the loan (such as a toll road might have) it's best to just take the cash, he said.

The state does have $180 million money set aside for Phase 1 of the Yadkin bridge project. It can start work as early as June, he said. That money will pay to replace and widen to eight lanes the I-85 bridge, the U.S. 29-70 bridge and reconstruct the N.C. 150 interchange. So I-85 will go from eight lanes to four, as it does now, then widen to eight again over the bridge.


Anonymous said...

I sure hope you're not going to try to equate the importance of the I-85 Yadkin River bridge to that of having more light rail or a streetcar here in Charlotte.

The I-85 bridge is a VITAL piece of infrastructure over which virtually all transportation between Charlotte and the RTP moves and without it, practically the entire western half of the state would be forced to detour through I-77 and I-40 to get to points north. By comparison, light rail and the streetcar are utterly inconsequential.

Let me put it another way:

I-85 Yadkin River bridge::USS Ronald Reagan
Charlotte light rail/streetcar::dinghy

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the streetcar recipients of TIGER funding may have just inadvertently improved Charlotte's chances to receive $25 million later this year as an Urban Circulator grant.

WashuOtaku said...

I would agree that the I-85 Yadkin River Bridge takes higher priority than most other projects needing funds in the state. It sucks we got only $10 million, but eventually we will get there in getting that bridge replaced.

Anonymous said...

Mary, the Yadkin River bridge has existed in its current configuration since 1956. It's disgraceful. As much as I want our light rail system to be built out past its current single corridor, the Yadkin River bridge takes precedence. The YRB is along North Carolina's main highway, I 85, that connects Charlotte to Greeensboro and Raleigh.

This isn't even debatable. It's like asking you to remodel your kitchen while your house has a leaking roof and an HVAC system that leaks coolant from the compressor and blows asbestos through the ductwork.

Anonymous said...

I saw they take the $180 million they have now and start construction on the bridge. Maybe they can use the design-build-finance method to widen the rest of the highway?

Anonymous said...

I'd say that many of the commentors have missed the point entirely. It's not at all the either/or equation of the I-85/YRB project vs. the commuter rail project, vs. (unrequested) money for a streetcar's the fact that the ENTIRE state of North Carolina "received" only $10M of the total pool of available money.

As one of the key mid-South states that voted (this time) for President Obama, and with a newly-elected Democratic senator (replacing an ineffective Republican), I would have thought we'd have fared better than some of the states (Texas) who have turned almost overwhelmingly GOP.

I suppose that might prove that the administration is being fair to all...that would be far better than what's happened in the past (from both parties); on the other hand, as apparently now as a "donor" state, it sure would have been nice to see a larger (either per capita or dollar-for-dollar) slice of the pot.

Anonymous said...

8:53, you may have noticed that we finished 4th or 5th in the dollars handed out for high-speed rail projects. So I'd say we did pretty good there. And Charlotte thankfully got the major part of that money.

Hoping4RAILinGA said...

psThe High Speed Rail award will be huge for you guys, and my sincere congratulations on that!
I am writing as an Atlantan who grew up in the Charlotte area, (on the South Carolina side). I was really disappointed to find almost complete lack coverage of the USDOT award in the Observer. We in Atlanta came out very much on the short end of this with a laughable award on $750,000.00. Truthfully, that’s more than we deserved with respect to our state’s recent historical commitment (or lack thereof) to funding passenger rail. Having said that, I must acknowledge an untold number of people on the advocacy front, who have been working hard for years to influence our state leaders on the importance that the enhancement of passenger rail transportation or its absence will have on Georgia’s future. However, since “Georgia doesn’t have its act together”, as Transportation Secretary LaHood has so eloquently, and bluntly told us, the efforts of these good people for now at least go to no avail.
Now Charlotte is staged to become the southern terminus of an east coast high-speed rail network. The potential economic benefits of this will be enormous. It is for that reason, that I have been sincerely dismayed at your paper’s apparent lack of interest on the news of two weeks ago. The award was the result of a concerted commitment to passenger rail transportation on the part of your state, for which you should be proud. This commitment is evidenced by the fact that you have, what will very soon be three Amtrak trains a day, leaving north-bound from Charlotte, (which will now grow to at least six); while there is only one departing southbound to Atlanta, and (sometimes)points beyond. And that one leaves at 2:00 AM. A lack of appreciation for the assets you have can sometimes be just as detrimental as having little concern for the needed assets that you don’t. I hope that the people of Charlotte and North Carolina will continue to support passenger rail and the development of high speed rail. Eventually, hopefully, this network with be modernized and enhanced to more resemble the real high-speed rail systems that now exist in Europe, Asia, and most recently in China. I hope that in the long run, this will also expand to become a continental network.
I read your blog and understand that there are many that disagree with me. By simply reading, one could never guess that the 2007 effort to repeal the Transit Sales Tax by referendum was so overwhelmingly defeated. I have read several, claiming in Atlanta blogs that the people of Charlotte do not support transit or rail transportation, to the point of claiming that transit has been “shoved down Charlotteans’ throats. However, a 70% - 30% referendum defeat is in no way inconclusive, or vague. It clearly shows that the people of Charlotte clearly understand the importance of sustainable investment in their future, despite the noise generated by those who do not.
Mary, as you are well aware, there will always be noise out there, and your blog seems to stir up quite its share. I suspect that much of that noise will follow my post. Keep the faith Mary, and I will continue reading.

JAT said...

Hoping -- Care to hazard a guess as to the amount of special interest spending -- corporations and entities with a direct connection to continued train-building in CLT -- which flowed in to lie and misrepresent the choices in that 2007 vote?

The plain fact was and is that a half-cent transit tax could, will not fund a $9.5b. transit plan.

Some of us wanted -- and continue to want -- a transit plan that fits our revenue stream. Others evidently prefer to go "dialing for dollars" as bus service is cut and fares hiked.

Anonymous said...

"I have read several, claiming in Atlanta blogs that the people of Charlotte do not support transit or rail transportation, to the point of claiming that transit has been “shoved down Charlotteans’ throats. However, a 70% - 30% referendum defeat is in no way inconclusive, or vague."

Promising the black caucas that their street car would be pushed to the front of the list of future projects and telling grandma that she would not be able to get her ride to dialysis if the sales tax was repealed had some to do with it. That and the uptown PR crowd outspent their opponents by a huge margin helped.

Anonymous said...

from the link: section on freight rail: "This investment will make our roads safer, the air cleaner, reduce traffic congestion and decrease our reliance on foreign oil."

Why does this nonsense continue to be said when it is false?

I'm all for putting freight on rail as we already do now.

The top 10 cities with freight/passenger rail ( and light rail ) are all among the most congested and most polluted cities as well.

Rick said...

The main reason for NC getting nothing out of this round of stimulus is because of the blind focus on rail. Rail in place of roads is ther new mantra for NC.

Here's a reality check, Mary. While the train zealots always want more, the reality is that NC got its stimulus money with the half BILLION in high speed rail money.

We'll also likely get even MORE with the City's $25M in Streetcar grant request. The City engineer is confident it will come through now that several competitors got out of the way with their TIGER grants.

The endless pit of greed on the part of the train zealots to the detriment of everyone else in mind blowing.