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Hurricane Season Threatens NCDOT, Others

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reports claim that the North Carolina Department of Transportation is now facing financial concerns regarding the approaching hurricane season.

According to ABC11 Eyewitness News, the agency is currently facing a long list of financial problems, including a $300 million gas tax shortfall, reduced revenue sources and employee furloughs, among others.

Preparing for the Worst

During hurricane season, coastal communities are threatened by lashing winds and heavy rains, often times damaging, if not completely destroying, some of the area’s infrastructure. However, in combination with this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, Mother Nature’s reoccurring storm season is even more menacing.

This season, forecasters with Penn State’s Earth System Science Center estimate that there will be between 13 and 24 named storms, determined by the National Hurricane Center when a storm is slated to have wind speeds of at least 39 miles per hour.

Although it is uncertain where these storms will land, researchers from Colorado State University report that there is a roughly 70% chance that at least one major hurricane will occur on American soil.

In preparing for the possibilities, ABC11 notes on several setbacks, reporting that last year the NCDOT overspent by $742 million and still has dozens of sites on deck from 2018 Hurricane Florence that are still in need of repair. Additionally, in the wake of the pandemic, the NCDOT is expected to show a $400 million gap during the 2021 fiscal year.

If that wasn’t enough, the agency also claims it won’t be able to work with its subcontractors during this year’s hurricane season, leaving all repairs to be completed by NCDOT employees.

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

However, NCDOT claims that it should still be able to move forward by utilizing funds received from bonds or federal grants, in addition to possible assistance received by other states. The agency also plans to reign in out-of-pocket spending by pausing some projects and delaying the awards of others.

"We've always known that Hurricane Season 2020 was over the hill and on the horizon, and now it's upon us," Mike Sprayberry, North Carolina's Directory of Emergency Management. "I believe that with proper planning and proper management, we'll be able to take the resources to fight the enemy, which is the hurricane."

During the season, the agency is also spreading additional information on health and safety, advising that individuals and families should consider how COVID-19 might alter typical plans during hurricane season, and suggests adding hand sanitizer, PPE masks and cleaning supplies to personal emergency kits, should they be evacuated to a shelter.

"We'll want to have enough face coverings and things like that so when our resources are out on the field they'll have those coverings,” continued Sprayberry. “Let's be ready. Don't let your guard down.”

Additional measures taken by NCDOT include the launch of the nation’s first emergency drone operation for a hospital pandemic response earlier this month. Novant Health had previously been granted a waiver to begin delivering personal protective equipment and other critical medical supplies to its healthcare network in the Charlotte area via drone by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The drone operation is being launched as part of an NCDOT program and is expected to expand in later phases this summer.

Coastal State Preparation

North Carolina isn’t the only state preparing for this year’s waves of storms however, as NPR reports that other coastal states ranging from Maine to Texas are also working to revise hurricane emergency plans to appease COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines.

From evacuation routes to shelters and keeping sources of personal protective equipment, agencies and associations are coordinating with emergency managers and companies to develop best courses of action, in addition to food and water supply options.

As a result of the adjustments, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has reported that it has updated its hurricane guide to include material on staying safe during the pandemic. Changes include advice on social distancing, masks and cleaning practices.

“We are now well past the question of what to do, we have to deal with it because we do not have a vaccine for this hurricane season and probably not for the next one either,” said Craig Fugate, the administrator of FEMA during Barack Obama’s presidency. “People are the vector, so we run the risk of increasing the spread the more we move them.”

USDOT COVID-19 Resources, Funding

In wake of the pandemic, the United States Department of Transportation has since issued several updates and resources to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus, as well as ensure continued critical infrastructure support and relief.

“The safety of our transportation networks is vital to maintaining economic durability and the free flow of essential supplies, food, fuel, and medical equipment” reports the Department.

“Response measures implemented by the Department to date have included stakeholder outreach and guidance, expanded federal assistance, and regulatory relief. This page will be updated on a regular basis as new information and resources become available.”

In addition to the various updates and resources, the USDOT also announced in April that there was $25 billion in federal funding allocations for the nation’s transportation systems and $1 billion in funding for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) in response to COVID-19.

Both allocations were made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which was signed by President Donald J. Trump on March 27.

According to the USDOT’s press release, the Federal Transit Administration plans to use the $25 billion in allocated funding by giving $22.7 billion to projects in large and small urban areas, while $2.2 billion is slated to be used for rural infrastructure. The Federal Railroad Administration plans to use its funding to support Amtrak’s activities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the spread of COVID-19, in addition to its impacts on operations and business.

Earlier this month, the United States Senate returned from recess with the intent to begin discussions on the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act. Building on the previously passed CARES Act in wake of COVID-19, the 1,800-page package intends to provide and additional $3 trillion to states and cities, including $15 billion for highway programs.

In the infrastructure sectors, the bill outlines that:

  • $945 million would be used for Capital Improvement Project grants for hospitals and other critical infrastructure;
  • $140 million would be used to expand broadband infrastructure and information technology for telehealth and electronic health record system purposes;
  • $1 billion would cover expenses for grants for core public health infrastructure state, local, territorial, or tribal health departments as described in section 30550 of division C of the Act; and
  • $15 billion would be used for “Highway Infrastructure Programs.”

Also this month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee revealed a $494 billion surface transportation bill, which aims to aid states and cities struggling from the effects of COVID-19 before addressing climate change issues.

The legislation plans to provide $8.35 billion to help states achieve climate-conscience goals, in addition to:

  • $6.25 billion for resilient infrastructure;
  • $60 billion for rail investments;
  • $83.1 billion for state and local transportation services and $22 billion for associated salary and operating expenses;
  • $319 billion for highways;
  • $105 billion to transit;
  • $4.6 billion for highway safety; and
  • $5.3 billion for motor carrier safety.

The legislation also requires that states spend 20% of their NHPP and Surface Transportation Program dollars on bridge repair and rehabilitation projects—roughly $28 billion over the course of five years.

View all of PaintSquare Daily News' CPVOD-19 coverage, here.

   

Tagged categories: COVID-19; Department of Transportation (DOT); Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Safety

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