Financially strapped NCDOT has 'a lot of concern' about weathering hurricane season

This story is part of our 2020 hurricane special Storm Ready 2020: Preparing in a Pandemic
Hurricanes bring lashing winds and pounding rain.

The combined cocktail can cripple communities.

Roads are washed out and neighborhoods swallowed.

It takes millions of dollars to fix Mother Nature's destruction and the NCDOT is going into this hurricane season underwater itself, facing deep financial problems.

"We have a lot of concern on that," said NCDOT Chief Engineer Tim Little.

The agency is facing a long list of financial problems.

The coronavirus crisis is crushing the revenue source with fewer people driving. It means a $300 million gas tax shortfall for this fiscal year. Nearly every employee is being furloughed.

Projections for next fiscal year already show a $400 million gap due to the pandemic.

On top of that, a recent audit shows the DOT overspent by $742 million dollars last year.

The problems could have a big impact on all of us.

Little says, as of now, the agency can't afford to work with any of its subcontractors this hurricane season and repairs will all have to be done by DOT employees.

Without the extra manpower, it could take the NCDOT a whole lot longer to work on trouble spots, such as NC-12, and other battered roads.

"That's going to be frustrating for us when we can't do that (work) in the time frame that we've done in the past," said Little.

It's not like everything from the past is even done. ABC11 is learning there are dozens upon dozens of roads that still need to be fixed.

There are 100 sites from Hurricane Florence, which happened in 2018, and 42 from Dorian last year.

Each powerful storm brings a financial blow.

Dorian caused $45 million in damage and Florence a whopping $220 million.

It remains to be seen what 2020 will cost.

Even with that uncertainly and the financial problems, the DOT is pushing ahead with several expensive projects. This includes construction on 1-40.

The DOT says there is only one way they're able to move forward -- The work's being funded through bonds or federal grants.

To reign in out-of-pocket spending, the agency is pushing the pause button on some projects and has delayed awarding many other contracts.

The DOT is hoping this helps them weather their own financial storm as it waits to see what's churning in the Atlantic Ocean.

"We still have thousands of employees across the state and we would respond to the storm, we would go out there and close these roadways so they stay safe," said Little.
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