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NC towns look to build bike, ped projects through US Carbon Reduction Plan

NCDOT allocates $33 million from the federal Carbon Reduction Plan annually.

Havelock, Pollocksville and Atlantic Beach have submitted sidewalk projects to receive funds under the federal Carbon Reduction Plan (CPR), which seeks to decrease carbon emissions through new infrastructure projects.

The Carbon Reduction Plan is part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and provides funding for municipal- and state-level projects that seek to reduce carbon emissions – like EV charging stations, sidewalks, bike paths, and rapid bus transit – as long as those project are new. Funds cannot be used to upgrade existing infrastructure. In North Carolina, local officials see the CRP as a way to build bike and pedestrian infrastructure at a lower cost.

Under North Carolina Law, state funds cannot be used to fund bike and pedestrian projects, which is why federal opportunities like the Carbon Reduction Plan are big for small and rural communities. Bike and pedestrian projects are often lower priorities and cities with smaller budgets are more hesitant to spend on these projects. Becca Eversole is a transportation planner at the Eastern Carolina Council of Governments. She helps small cities navigate federal grant programs.

“There’s so many resources coming out of Washington to help our communities and somebody’s got to use those funds. So why not our town and cities?” Eversole said.

North Carolina receives $32,856,117 annually from the CRP until 2026. NCDOT allocates a set amount of to each of 19 metropolitan areas, totaling $23 million. New Bern, for example, receives $200,000 each year. The remaining $9.5 million is set aside for rural communities across the state. No submissions were made last year as NCDOT was still putting together all the details, so this year that pot of money is doubled to $19 million.

To receive the funds, cities must submit an application through their planning organization and pay 20% of the costs if approved. The Eastern Carolina Council of Governments could send up to 12 applications, but only filled 4 this year. Eversole says there was a lot of interest in the program, but that many communities would struggle to meet the 20% local match.

“The local match can be difficult for some of our smaller communities and the good news is hopefully with this round, we’ll get some of those funds and inspire other communities to apply,” she said.

All the applications either build or expand sidewalks: 2 projects in Havelock, 1 in Atlantic Beach and 1 in Pollocksville.

For the projects in Havelock, one is along Webb Boulevard and the other Church Rd. They aim to make the city more walkable and safer for pedestrians.

The Atlantic Beach proposal seeks to fill in gaps with its current sidewalk network along Highway 58, which is incredibly busy during summer months. The proposed project is part of a larger effort among the communities on Bogue Banks Island to decrease congestion and make it more walkable.

“One of our regional goals would be to have some improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure along the entirety of Bouge Banks, basically from bridge to bridge,” Eversole said.

The Pollocksville proposal runs along a portion of Main Street where currently no sidewalk exists. It’ll cover a well-trodden path to the Dollar General. The proposed sidewalk project will add to a host of infrastructure funding that has come to the town of just 300. Some $10 million is being spent on resiliency projects and water system upgrades. Mayor Bender sees the CRP proposed project as an extension of the projects currently underway.

“Back before Pollocksville was devastated by the flood [from Hurricane Florence], we already knew we needed to reimagine what Pollocksville was going to look like, not because of floods, but because of the bypass,” he said. “We realized that all a sudden we weren't going to have as many cars. So, how do we get people into town?”

Sidewalks are part of that project. The federal government will cover 80% of the costs, lifting some of the financial burden. The remaining 20% is up to the town, but even if Pollocksville's application is accepted, Bender is not sure if his town can afford it.

“If it comes down to. We get a $400,000 or $500,000 grant and I've got to find $100,000, we'll probably have to turn it down,” he said. “We’re not going to borrow any money.”

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.