Bond could extend N.C. 24

Sampson Board of Commissioners chairman Billy Lockamy talks about Connect NC, a governor-proposed bond issue that would total close to $3 billion, offering more than $34 million to extend N.C. 24 improvements in Sampson.

County commissioners have put their full support behind a nearly $3 billion state bond proposal that includes $34 million to extend N.C. 24 improvements east of Clinton.

The board recently adopted a resolution supporting Governor Pat McCrory’s Connect NC bond initiative and encouraging the General Assembly to allow North Carolina’s citizens to vote on the bond proposal “to ensure North Carolina’s future on the global stage.” The bond will connect North Carolina cities and towns by building roads, upgrading technology and constructing education facilities.

Board chairman Billy Lockamy said he was contacted by the governor’s office regarding the $2.85 billion bond proposal. The bond issue seeks to address infrastructure and transportation needs in the state, as well as connect towns across North Carolina. Investments are proposed for 64 counties across the state, including Sampson.

In this county, it is proposed to extend road improvements on N.C. 24 from U.S. 421/701 (Faircloth Freeway) and Sunset Avenue to west of State Road 1920 (Moltonville Road). That project tallies $34.2 million alone.

Commissioner Clark Wooten said he believed in giving the public the opportunity to vote one way or the other.

“We don’t know that N.C. 24 will get funded but we certainly do know that if we don’t support this measure there’s a good chance it won’t,” said Wooten. “I’ll say this: we need infrastructure and my favorite thing about what the governor has laid out here is he’s put it in front of the people and he’s letting the people speak. I commend him for that.”

Wooten said there has been some in the Legislature express their belief that the referendum should coincide with a regular Presidential election, noting there would be an additional cost to counties as a result of having a special election. Commissioner Sue Lee pointed to the positives that the measure would reimburse counties for the extra cost of holding the special elections and would require no tax increase.

“I like how we can put it in front of the people and let them decide,” Lee remarked.

Under legislation filed at the General Assembly in April, two bond proposals of approximately $1.4 billion each — one for roads, the other for infrastructure — would go before the voters for approval either in October or November. The proposed transportation bond would distribute funding according to N.C. Department of Transportation’s Strategic Mobility Formula to pay for 27 permit-ready highway projects throughout the state. Additionally, the bond would fund the paving of 176 unpaved secondary roads totaling 113 miles.

Because of the state’s fiscal strength and strong balance sheet, no tax increase is needed to fund the bonds and the state’s AAA bond rating would be preserved. Low interest rates make now a great time to borrow money, state officials said.

“Today, we are enjoying and benefiting from the investments made by our parents and grandparents,” McCrory said upon unveiling Connect NC earlier this year. “Now is the time for us to seize the moment and make the investments that will benefit North Carolinians for generations to come.”

The board concurred with the proposal’s benefits, stating as much in its unanimous adoption of the resolution.

“These strategic investments, as proposed, are designed to benefit every community across this great State and will create jobs and improve the quality of life and environment for every North Carolinian,” the local resolution states. “By not addressing our serious infrastructure deficiencies now, our state will lose its ability to compete in the future, interest rates will go up, costs to taxpayers will increase, congestion will worsen and jobs will not expand at the rate needed to sustain a healthy and vibrant North Carolina.”

“The citizens of North Carolina must be allowed to make the important decision of investing in the opportunities provided to our future generations through the Connect NC bond initiative,” the resolution concludes.

Commissioner Albert Kirby expressed his hope that Sampson would receive its fair share, as proposed.

“My concern is whether or not we are getting a fair share of the funds for infrastructure, compared to Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Raleigh-Durham and the big areas,” Kirby said. “The last funding we had for roads we just did not get our share. The calculus they used was just totally unfair to rural counties, not just Sampson. If it’s going to advance 24 — we need some money for roads in our county — my only concern is I want it to be fair.”

At the end of last year, the Sampson Board of Commissioners and Clinton City Council threw their unanimous support behind McCrory’s N.C. Vision 25 long-term plan, as well as a $1.49 billion transportation bond proposal. The governor said at the time that he wanted a well-connected, well-maintained and well-funded transportation system in place to help North Carolina continue to thrive. To that end, a number of highway projects, mostly in rural areas, were placed on a draft list of N.C. Department of Transportation candidates to be to kick-started with borrowed money.

The completion of a 10-mile stretch of N.C. 24, from Clinton to Interstate 40 in Duplin, was one of the 21 projects included in the bond proposal at a price tag of $155 million. That has since been amended.

The initial N.C. 24 project proposed a four-lane roadway stretching for approximately 40 miles, from Cumberland County to I-40 near Warsaw, however just two-thirds of the project — four of six segments — was funded, with preliminary construction already underway in Sampson. The last two segments are currently unfunded, with 2030 the target date for their completion.

The bond proposal would serve to take care of some of those improvements well ahead of that time. Wooten echoed Kirby’s hopes that Sampson would indeed realize funds to continue the N.C. 24 project.

“That’s the disjoint between rural and metropolitan areas, when it comes to this and other things,” he said. “That’s very unfortunate and I believe it’s on the radar of a lot of our legislators in Raleigh to try and bring that (gap) closer together. I think it would be incumbent on us to do everything we could to lobby for our fair share.”