By MICAH HENRY
Liledoun Road, which suffered a washout in June 2019 from heavy rains, will be repaired soon.
North Carolina State Transportation Board member Andy Wells, of Hickory, told The Times that the NC Dept. of Transportation received the “go ahead” to allow the repair work to begin. He said he hoped to have more specific details on the project timeline next week.
Wells, who formerly represented Alexander and Catawba counties as North Carolina State Senator for District 42 until his retirement July 27th, said as Senator he had been pressing the Transportation Board for over a year to make the necessary repairs to Liledoun Road.
He noted that the DOT had dipped below its statutory minimum threshold of funds earlier this year and projects statewide had ground to a halt. Wells indicated the agency has now risen above this threshold.
The Liledoun situation is one of many road problems in the state which highlighted problems with the DOT.
A Performance Audit of the DOT’s cash spending plan issued in May 2020 by State Auditor Beth Wood (D) noted that DOT overspent its budget by $742 million in fiscal year 2019. Among Wood’s recommendations was that the Legislature should consider requiring a level of oversight for the Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund similar to the level of oversight provided for the state’s General Fund.
Also in May, NC State Treasurer Dale Folwell (R) spoke to The Times regarding the DOT situation.
“Last year, we asked the Governor to dismiss the DOT Secretary, which he did. But we asked for something else, too: to transfer the whole financial operation of the DOT over to the Office of State Budget and Management. The Office of State Budget and Management knows how to manage budgets…The DOT should only be in the business of building and repairing roads and bridges. They should have nothing to do with the financial operations of DOT. Because not only have they overspent their budget by billions of dollars, they wiped out the Highway Trust Fund of over a billion dollars, which has not been touched since 2002. It’s almost completely wiped out,” Folwell noted.
New law restructures Transportation Board
Wells said that in June of this year, the NC General Assembly passed House Bill 77 to restructure the Department of Transportation Board. Instead of all 20 members all appointed by the Governor (one from each of the 14 DOT regional divisions and six at-large members), the bill changed the six at-large members to 3 appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate and 3 appointed by and the Speaker of the State House, in staggered terms.
HB 77 added to the state law that the Transportation “Board shall carry out its duties consistent with the fiduciary responsibility to ensure the solvency of the State Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund.”
The bill also directed the Department of Transportation to develop a “comprehensive cash-spending plan, known as the ‘Spend Plan,’ to spend money from any source, including federal funds and bond proceeds, for programs, functions, activities or objects, by the Department.” The Department must present the Spend Plan to the Board of Transportation, the Transportation Oversight Manager at the Office of State Budget and Management, and the State Budget Director for approval.
And at the end of each fiscal year, no later than July 15, the Department must post on its website (and submit to the Transportation Board, the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee, and the Fiscal Research Division) a financial statement and comparison to the fiscal year’s Spend Plan.