Black Mountain Town Council hears infrastructure funding options in special call meeting

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
The Black Mountain Town Council met on Dec. 2 to hear funding options for infrastructure and transportation projects.

The Black Mountain Town Council met for the first of three special call meetings on Dec. 2 to discuss infrastructure funding with the Land of Sky Regional Council and the French Broad MPO.

"The reason we wanted to start this was a question raised at one of our recent council meetings about how we fund some of our local projects," said Mayor Larry Harris. 

Harris said hearing from the Land of Sky Regional Council and the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization seemed like a good place to start. The council made no decisions at the Dec. 2 meeting.

Erica Anderson, director of economic and community development at the Land of Sky Regional Council, and Tristan Winkler, executive director of the French Broad River MPO, presented information about funding as well as each organization to the council. 

Winkler and Anderson agreed that regionally, the area is more than $1 billion over budget. 

Winkler outlined five primary types of funding to the council, beginning with planning funds, made available through the MPO. These federal funds help small projects such as bicycle and pedestrian plans and require a 20% local match from the town.

"All of these programs are very competitive," Winkler said. "From a national level, you're competing across the nation."

The largest amount of funding is available through the statewide prioritization process, or SPOT funds. SPOT funds cover larger projects in the area and make up a significant part of what the MPO does, but does not require a local fund match.

MPO or LAPP (Locally Administered Project Program) funds are used for engineering, right of way acquisition and construction. The single largest source of funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects in the region, Winkler said these types of funds have been used for projects such as Black Mountain's greenway.

LAPP funds also require a 20% local match from the town. 

In the five county region, Winkler reported that there were more pedestrian fatalities in 2020 than previously recorded. From a regional perspective, Winkler acknowledged the opportunity local municipalities have for obtaining grants and funding to address concerns of this nature. 

Land of Sky consists of four counties, Buncombe, Madison, Henderson and Transylvania. Anderson said the organization also works with Haywood county through the French Broad MPO. The makeup of the group's data analysis included all five counties. 

Designated as a council of government, Land of Sky exists as a membership-based, regional government agency, though holds no regulatory authority. The organization mostly handles pass-through federal funding though also does work with state funds. 

The French Broad River MPO began in the 1960s. Winkler said the group doesn't follow jurisdictional boundaries; it exists to plan for transportation components of a region based on urbanized areas and census data. 

"Really at the heart of what we do is we maintain the federally required transportation planning process," Winkler said. 

The federal government has lots of transportation funds, he said, but wants to see that a plan is in place before allocating funding to an area. 

"If you have the ability to fund things locally, do so," Winkler said. "If you're applying for less than $1 million, don't bother." 

Winkler said projects are funded through a quantitative score process. In terms of the town's unfunded projects, the modernization of Blue Ridge Road for example, did not meet a high enough quantitative score to be successful. 

For projects such as this, where funding still hasn't been secured since initially applying for it in 2015, Winkler said the MPO will likely need to look for other options to make the project more competitive. 

"We have a great number of demands, but like these other regions, we're constrained by the resources we receive," said Vice Mayor Ryan Stone. 

The Black Mountain Town Council has yet to set a date for the remaining two meetings to discuss infrastructure funding.