PILOT MOUNTAIN — Gov. Pat McCrory visited Pilot Mountain State Park on Thursday as a part of a statewide tour aimed at scrounging up support for two ballot measures that would allow the state to incur more than $4 billion in debt to finance highway and other infrastructure improvements.
After a morning visit to Winston-Salem State University, McCrory spent the afternoon in Pilot Mountain leading a presentation about the Connect NC bond referendum program.
David Pearson, executive director of Friends of State Parks, introduced the presentation noting that 15 million people visit North Carolina state parks annually. “Connect NC honors the State Parks’ centennial anniversary next year,” said Pearson.
Connect NC is the name for the two proposed bonds of $2.85 billion for capital improvements to highways and other infrastructure and for one for $1.37 billion for 27 highway projects and 176 paving projects.
According to information released by the governor’s office, the infrastructure bond would fund 101 projects across 64 counties creating an estimated 15,600 jobs.
Asking each state agency for its top priorities, the infrastructure projects focus on the most critical needs for highways, ports, rail, institutions of higher education, national guard, medical examiner offices, historic sites and state parks.
According to Pearson, $6 million from the bond would go to Pilot Mountain State Park. The park superintendent, Matt Windsor, requested the funds to build a visitor center and additional parking.
Office of State Budget and Management Director Lee Roberts said, “We are only deferring the work by not doing it now.” That deferment, he explained, will cost the taxpayers more than $7 million annually for each quarter of a percent that interest rates go up.
“The treasurer has the same view on debt affordability,” said Lee, stating that if the bond is approved, the state will still have less debt in five years.
The regional roadways that will be enhanced include I-74 and the I-77/I-40 interchange leading to better connectivity and improved safety, according to NC Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata. “It’s about strategic mobility,” said Tata.
Susan Kluttz, secretary for the NC Department of Cultural Resources, said, “I am thrilled to have a governor that recognizes the need for infrastructure and the importance of our state treasures.”
She explained that elements of the bond will lead to economic growth and improved quality of life.
According to Kluttz, 250 of the 355 buildings maintained by the Department of Cultural Resources are historical in nature. Roof repairs and electric rewiring are critical to maintaining their structural integrity.
In order to get the bond on the ballot, McCrory encouraged people to “contact your legislators; start now, make phone calls, and make your voice strong.” He emphasized that only public interest will bring Connect NC to the top of the agenda before the June 30 deadline.
“We are the ninth largest state (in population), we need to start acting like it,” McCrory said.
Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on twitter @PilotReporter.