North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata used his appearance as keynote speaker at last week’s Twin County Regional Business Expo at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount to update local leaders and citizens on changes he’s overseen to the NC Department of Transportation since assuming office 9 months ago.
Secretary Tata focused his remarks on NCDOT’s efforts to embrace the guidance provided to him by Governor Pat McCrory:
- Improve customer service, especially within the DMV;
- Leverage infrastructure investments to create jobs; and
- Be more efficient.
Secretary Tata reported how a recent pilot project established Saturday hours at select DMV service centers, serving more than 27,000 citizens since starting in March. Presently, 80% of North Carolina residents live within 30 miles of a DMV Center offering Saturday hours.
Continued service improvement efforts will include pilot projects instituting greeting and triage of DMV visitors, incorporating the use of automated kiosks to take on approximately 90% of service needs and reducing wait times by approximately 45 minutes.
From an infrastructure and efficiency perspective, Secretary Tata focused attention on the new Strategic Mobility Formula approved by the General Assembly, which replaces the prior practice of equally-distributing all NCDOT funding across its 14 districts.
Moving forward, 40% of NCDOT funds will be tied to statewide, strategic priorities, utilizing a 100% data-driven evaluation analyzing projects on the basis of reducing travel time in a cost-effective manner, reducing congestion, creating jobs, enhancing safety, and facilitating better network connectivity.
An additional 30% of NCDOT funds will be allocated on a regional basis, with each region representing 2 districts. Funds will be distributed to each region on a per capita basis, with projects chosen on a process 70% data-driven, 15% MPO/RPO recommendations and 15% feedback from Division Engineers.
The remaining 30% of NCDOT funding will be evenly-divided between the 14 Districts. At the same time, Divisions are compelled to collaborate on projects in order to increase investment effectiveness. All transportation operations (roads, rail, transit, ferries, air) will compete for these funding sources.
The plan held harmless current allocations made to more than 500 eligible municipalities for surface transportation maintenance and improvement through the Powell Bill program.
Secretary Tata also expressed the need to hold “hard conversations” on the challenges of transportation funding. The Secretary expressed the opinion that current taxation mechanisms (gasoline tax, highway use tax) are unusable in the future due to lower rates in neighboring states and changes in customer behavior. According to the Secretary, the State is losing $200 million to $300 million a year because of fuel efficiency.
The Secretary believes reforms to transportation funding will be a topic of focus in next year’s “short session” in the General Assembly.
In closing, Secretary Tata emphasized the importance of transportation investment to North Carolina continued prominence in global economic activity. Along with addressing current needs and developing the framework for a 25-year Infrastructure Plan, the Secretary emphasized NCDOT will continue “working to deliver the best infrastructure… sensitive to the needs of each community.”
You can listen to the entirety of Secretary Tata’s remarks below (jump to 3:40 for start of the Secretary’s speech).