By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
A “sharp decline in revenue” due to COVID-19 depleted the NCDOT cash reserve funds to below the required statutory minimum, the state agency announced Monday in a press release.
“According to state law, once the department falls below the cash floor, the department can no longer enter into new contracts that spend money on transportation projects,” the release stated.
The NCDOT put a hold on some things, including negotiating right-of-way purchases not already underway. The agency can still proceed with operations like continuing active projects, maintaining existing infrastructure with existing supplies and staff and responding to emergency situations with existing staff and materials, NCDOT said in a press release.
The announcement hasn’t delayed the N.C. 211 widening project, according to NCDOT Assistant Director of Communications Steve Abbott.
“Today’s announcement doesn’t mean the project itself is delayed at all. It just means negotiations for right of way property will be on hold. Right of way was scheduled to continue into 2022, with construction after that so the construction schedule itself remains unchanged,” Abbott said in an email Monday.
The situation is unprecedented for the department, according to Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette.
“Never in the history of NCDOT has there been such an immediate and sustained decline in revenues,” Boyette said in a statement. “We need revenue to begin putting people back to work across North Carolina.”
The NCDOT is funded through the motor fuels tax, highway use tax and DMV fees. The drop in funding from those sources due to COVID-19 means the department projects it will lose more than $300 million in revenue by the end of the fiscal year June 30. The agency also projected it will be short more than $370 million for fiscal year 2021.
The NCDOT has laid off nearly half of all temporary employees and embedded consultants, suspended most programs, frozen hiring except for positions impacting public safety and is evaluating programs and areas for cuts. The agency also is working to develop a department-wide plan to furlough employees, the department said in a statement.
NCDOT officials don’t know when the cash reserves will be above the cash floor. For the department to start reinstating suspended projects and programs, it will need revenue replacement to compensate for the COVID-19 losses for this and next fiscal year, the agency said. The department must continue meeting existing obligations, and pay invoices for work already completed or underway.