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NC DOT Owes Swain County Transit Over $100,000 - Part Of $18 Million Owed Across The State

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Lilly Knoepp
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Bryson City is the county seat of Swain County.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation owed $18 million to counties across the state over the last 6 months because of budgeting issues.   

Public Transportation departments across Western North Carolina are running out of money. They have not yet received funds from one state program.

In Swain County, that means the transit department worried it wouldn’t be able to fund transportation across the sparsely populated county of 14,000 people much longer.  It’s waiting on $120,000 dollars. 

Transit Director Marlene Vinson says these funds – which were supposed to be released in August -  have never been late before.

 “Never. And I've been doing this 37 years,” says Vinson.   

Its cost the department $70,000 to operate this long. Vinson says they have relied on some previous funds and “pinching pennies.”   

Swain Transit takes seniors to the store, professionals to work and students to local colleges.  Transit services in the 7 westernmost counties also work together to take riders to specialty care in Asheville at Mission Hospital and the VA. 

“What was the first thing y'all were going to have to cut if it came down to that?,” asks BPR. 

“Probably shopping. We have a huge number of senior citizens that go shopping. The last thing to be cut would always be the medical,” says Vinson. 

Swain County Transit had 400 individual riders in 2019 and 15,000 trips over the last 6 months.  Money is tighter in counties where the transit is run by a nonprofit says Vinson.  Both Swain and Haywood County transit are run by nonprofits.

The Department of Transportation has announced that the funds for the program are beginning to be sent out at the end of January explaining: 

“The Rural Operating Assistance Program - we call it ROAP because we love acronyms.” 

That’s Hannah Cockburn. She’s director of integrated mobility at NC DOT - that covers public transport, biking and walking.  

She says that the lack of funding has been because of a combination of issues:

“Because we have been in such an unusual budget cycle with DOT’s budget being delayed and then our cash flow issues at NC DOT have certainly complicated making those funds available.” 

The funds will be released over the next four months instead of all at once.

 When asked if this could happen again if the state budget continues to be delayed Cockburn said: “Only a fool would predict what will happen in our legislature.”

The legislature won’t be in session until the end of April.

 

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.