Grants worth $25 million for local public transportation services across the state are still frozen because North Carolina — alone among the 50 states — has not yet convinced federal officials that it will manage the money properly.
[Update 12 noon Wednesday 12/10: Feds release state transit grants]
State Department of Transportation officials will have two opportunities at public meetings in Raleigh Wednesday to explain why the Federal Transit Administration took the unusual step of freezing grants that were tentatively approved in September.
“Withholding funds is a tool FTA uses sparingly,” the FTA said by e-mail. Tia N. Swain, an agency spokeswoman in Washington, provided the FTA statement this week in response to questions from The News & Observer.
The FTA told state transportation departments in November 2007 to prepare detailed management plans for how they would distribute and oversee the money. North Carolina is the only state whose funds are frozen because it has failed to submit an acceptable plan, the FTA statement said.
State DOT officials are scheduled to discuss the FTA funds Wednesday at meetings of the legislature’s transportation oversight committee and the state Board of Transportation.
“I think the board needs to be aware of what the situation is and what needs to be done to rectify it,” said Nancy Dunn of Winston-Salem, chairwoman of the transportation board's transit committee.
Local agencies depend on the federal money to sustain transportation programs that help elderly, disabled, low-income and other mostly rural North Carolina residents. Some grant money approved in earlier years is still available, and local agencies apparently have not yet been hurt by the federal action.
“We are still receiving funds we need as a rural operator to operate,” said Dennis Williams, executive director of the Alamance County Transportation Authority in Burlington.
The Alamance agency is still getting reimbursed for money it spends to transport some rural residents to work and to doctor’s appointments.
“So far, things are going well,” Williams said.
In a Nov. 9 letter to Roberto Canales, state DOT deputy secretary for transit, the FTA said North Carolina would not receive the $25 million in grant money until the federal agency approved the state’s management plan.
Canales said he tried to satisfy the FTA’s concerns in a plan he filed on Friday.
“Our hope, from having worked with them for the better part of the year on this, is that we have answered their questions,” he said. [Canales comment added 5:35pm Tuesday.]
The statement from Swain, the FTA spokeswoman, said the agency “believes this issue will be resolved shortly."