News & Observer: NCDOT says finances have stabilized but remain precarious, hoping the weather holds

From The Charlotte News & Observer:

Few people are hoping for a snow-free winter in North Carolina as much as the leaders of the N.C. Department of Transportation.

NCDOT’s finances have stabilized since last spring, when unexpected expenses forced the department to begin cutting back on everything from fixing bridges to mowing grass. A big chunk of those added costs was related to repairs and cleanup after storms, mainly Hurricane Florence in the fall of 2018 but also lesser events, such as thunderstorms that washed out roads in the Triangle last June. . .

NCDOT has spent close to $400 million on storm-related cleanup and repairs in the last 16 months, compared to a long-term average of about $66 million a year, Lewis said.

The federal government should reimburse the state for much of that money. But that can take a while. NCDOT has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for about $85.5 million to cover the cost of cleaning up debris and fixing secondary roads damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. As of Dec. 31, the state was still waiting for $19.5 million, according to Emily McGraw, NCDOT’s state maintenance engineer.

NCDOT is also awaiting FEMA reimbursement for more than $88.5 million in cleanup and repair costs from Hurricane Florence in 2018, according to McGraw. . .

The Map Act has been another source of unexpected costs for NCDOT — a law passed in the 1980s that allowed the department to reserve property for future highways without actually buying it. After years of legal challenges, the N.C. Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional and ordered the state to begin compensating landowners.

Since the ruling in 2016, the state has paid about $558 million to property owners affected by the Map Act, including the cost of acquiring their land, homes and other buildings. About 635 property owners had filed lawsuits, so settling those cases also involves paying damages and interest as well as attorneys’ fees, according to figures provided to the General Assembly this month.

A little more than 200 of those lawsuits remain unresolved, and NCDOT estimates it will cost another $179 million to settle them. . .


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