Iler questions South Carolina planning for Brunswick County transportation

Last Tuesday, July 10th, while attending a meeting at the St. James Town Hall, I was shocked to find that a Metropolitan Planning Organization from Myrtle Beach is going to have a role in transportation planning for southern Brunswick County.  The biggest concern besides state sovereignty issues was the lack of information from the NC Dept. of Transportation about what this means for our county and state.

I had been notified April 30th by Don Eggert of the Cape Fear Council of Governments, headquartered in Wilmington, that the Federal Highway Administration had redrawn the boundaries of the planning area, based on the 2010 census.  The new area to be taken in by the Myrtle Beach MPO would be from US 17 to the beach and the state line to Shallotte, including the town limits of Shallotte.  This would include the towns of Calabash, Carolina Shores, Ocean Isle Beach, Shallotte, and Sunset Beach.  No one seemed to know what this meant when I asked a few questions in Raleigh.

A meeting was held in Carolina Shores on June 12th, while we were in session in Raleigh, to explain what this would mean to our area.  The Grand Strand Area Transportation Study (GSATS), the name of the MPO, would take in up to and including Shallotte, as well as give an option to join to towns all the way to Southport.  The notes from that meeting state that the committee in Brunswick County would be a “sub-committee” of GSATS, and that a fee of $12,000 would be paid by the county to GSATS.  It was apparently presented as a “done deal” because it was in Federal statute.

At the follow-up meeting last Tuesday, I asked the GSATS representative, Mr. Hoeweler, if he were aware that in North Carolina all transportation funds came from the state and that the county had no funds for this purpose.  He seemed not to be aware of it.  In South Carolina the counties raise transportation funds through taxes, unlike North Carolina.  I also asked about private property issues, such as “Will North Carolina retain sovereignty, and will all property acquisitions be by NCDOT, not SCDOT.” He assured me that this is for planning only, not right-of-way or construction purposes.  Additionally, I asked if they understood that NCDOT has a strategic prioritization process that may be different from that of SCDOT.  He seemed unsure, but seemed to acknowledge that it could be different.

Upon further investigation by several county officials and myself, we have found that there may be other options for the affected towns.  Federal Statute Title 23 Part C450.312 appears to give the Governor the option of agreeing to the new MPO or not when it crosses state lines.  NCDOT seems to think that Shallotte could actually join the Wilmington MPO.

Last week, at my request, NCDOT began to get additional answers on this subject.  As Co-chair of the House Transportation Committee, I am amazed that this wasn’t brought to my attention from NCDOT earlier.  I recall seeing a small map of the MPO areas, but this unusual situation was not highlighted.  It may need to be a subject at the next meeting of the Joint Transportation Oversight Committee, on which Sen. Rabon is Chair and I am Vice Chair.  We really need to know if there are any positive benefits to this for Brunswick County.