NCDOT struggles to keep head above water following string of hurricanes

Elaina Athans Image
Monday, September 16, 2019
NCDOT struggles in wake of recent hurricanes
NCDOT struggles in wake of recent hurricanes

One year after Hurricane Florence slammed the North Carolina coast and nearly two years after Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc, the ripple effects are still being felt.

"It's tough times right now for NCDOT," said North Carolina Department of Transportation Chief Operating Officer Bobby Lewis.

The department is having "budget issues" because of the unplanned weather expenses.

Communities were inundated with rain in both major storms. Creeks were rising. There were washouts and roads ruined.

The flooding has receded, but officials continue to struggle to keep their heads above water.

The department has been paying for repairs while it waits for federal dollars to be doled out.

The tab is growing. Less than two weeks ago, Hurricane Dorian ripped apart NC Highway 12 on Ocracoke Island.

A coastal crew has been assessing the damage. It does not yet have a final repair plan.

Officials estimate the most recent storm will cost about $40 million in repairs.

There was a 12-year span that the DOT says it was averaging about $66 million a year in unplanned weather expenses.

Since 2016, that number has more than tripled.

Matthew and Florence each cost about $225 million.

The state will be reimbursed for some of the expenses since a federal disaster was declared, but an official said it's a lengthy process that sometimes takes years.

The DOT is delaying some contract work and laying off more than 1,000 people to save money.

"There's certainly a frequency of storms and there's certainly more costs to those storms whether it's material cost or just being able to respond quickly and doing it fast, there's a cost to that too," Lewis said.

The department hopes to rehire at least some of the laid-off workers next year.