North Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Fayetteville Observer on Interstate 95 upgrades:
A decade ago, a plan to widen Interstate 95 in North Carolina, and pay for the work with tolls, stoked an angry response that led to the plan’s demise. The image of toll booths turned radioactive. The political pressure was intense, lawmakers sprinted away from it and state transportation officials buried it in the deepest grave they could dig.
And then? Nothing. No action. No suggestions. No plans. Nothing — except an increasingly congested highway, parts of which were largely unimproved since I-95 was built.
And there it sat, until the past year or two, when the movement to rebuild “America’s Main Street” was revived and began steaming ahead. The state Department of Transportation came up with a new plan for the highway and there’s not a single toll booth in it. And by leveraging both state and federal funding, the timetable for widening and modernizing some of the old highway’s most problematic sections has accelerated.
Just this week, there is more good news: One of I-95′s worst bottlenecks in this state is getting almost immediate attention. A segment of the highway in Cumberland and Harnett counties will be widened from four to eight lanes, and the project will begin next spring, when the DOT plans to award a contract to a design and construction team. The work will widen the road between Exit 56 in Eastover to Exit 71 near Dunn.
The latest lift for the project came from a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant, which the state won this summer to improve highways and broadband service in eastern North Carolina. A DOT spokesman said the grant allowed the department to move the project up on its priority list, where projects compete for funding and start dates.
In 2020, the DOT plans to award another contract, to expand the highway between Exits 71 and 81, from Dunn to the junction with Interstate 40. That project will also include new interchanges and bridges. The construction phase of both projects is expected to take about four years.
There’s nothing but good news in all of that, especially for local drivers who use I-95 regularly.
But the devil will be in the design details, and in the past few weeks, we’ve seen a new but urgent issue make itself known: The flooding from Hurricane Florence, which was especially severe in this region and which shut down the highway in multiple locations in Harnett and Cumberland counties. The problem isn’t likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime issue, but rather a recurring one.
Despite the General Assembly’s longtime aversion to climate science, many state officials are acknowledging that we’re in a new era now, and Gov. Roy Cooper is calling for a recovery effort that’s heavy on building “resilience.” What he’s talking about will include measures that help our infrastructure resist the heavy flooding we’ve seen twice in the past two years. That could include raising roadbeds and bridges above the flooding levels we saw last month, and other measures that would keep overflowing rivers and streams from disrupting key transportation routes — such as I-95, which came up short in resilience last month.
The DOT will hold public meetings on both of its I-95 projects later this month, where residents can see maps and talk with the department’s representatives.
The two projects will cover about 25 miles of the roadway and will cost an estimated $700 million. They’ll be the first major upgrade since the highway was designed — a process that began during the Eisenhower administration. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is a long-overdue modernization.
StarNews of Wilmington on the aftermath of Florence:
... A friend recently asked if the response to Florence had been adequate. We said yes, at least in the immediate aftermath. And that response is continuing, as thousands of people still are in crisis. But we added that, in our experience, the toughest challenges can come when the storm is out of the headlines and life is starting to feel normal again for many.
That’s why we need a strong, sustained second wind, not only in our actual recovery work, but in ensuring we don’t let Florence’s ongoing impact slip too far from our minds — or from the priorities of our elected leaders.
Tales of dramatic rescues and strangers helping strangers are important and need to be celebrated. Filling out FEMA paperwork and trying to get back into a flooded home — or find a new one altogether — doesn’t make for such compelling stories, but that part of responding to the storm is just as important.
We also know from experience that hurricanes and flooding take an especially heavy toll on people who already are vulnerable — the poor, elderly, disabled and those with chronic health problems come to mind. Wind and water don’t discriminate, but the circumstances people and communities were in before the storm does.
As we try to move forward, it will be easy for some of those vulnerable people and places to slip through the cracks. It’s impossible for a disaster-recovery effort to meet every need, but we should try our best to reach out to those who have less means or ability to help themselves. Whether or not we do so will say a lot about the character of our cities, towns and state.
As Florence was making a beeline for Cape Fear, we used this space to urge a renewed sense of unity, patience and goodwill. Since then, we’ve seen all three in abundance. But we noted, too, that those qualities seem to come naturally in a crisis. As we begin recovery, all three will be just as essential but likely harder to muster and maintain.
So let’s take a breath, get that needed (if unfortunately named) second wind, and get back to work. Breathe deeply and, if you can, find a way to help. There is much to be done, and will be for a long time.
The Charlotte Observer on a federal judge allowing six LGBT North Carolinians to proceed with a challenge to a state law prohibiting localities from passing non-discrimination measures that regulate bathrooms:
A judge’s ruling has prompted a new debate over an old issue in North Carolina. Let’s clear things up.
On Sunday night, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder allowed six LGBT North Carolinians to proceed with a challenge to a state law that prohibits cities and counties from passing non-discrimination measures that regulate restrooms so that transgender people can use the bathroom of their choice.
Schroeder also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that the law in question, HB142, prohibited transgender people from using the bathroom reflecting their gender identity. “HB142 does not regulate restroom access in any fashion,” Schroeder wrote in his ruling.
That was actually good news for plaintiffs, said Joaquin Carcano, the lead plaintiff. In a statement released by the ACLU, Carcano said: “I am relieved to finally have the court unequivocally say that there is no law in North Carolina that can be used to bar transgender people from using restrooms that match who we are.”
Not so fast, said NC Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald, who said Carcano’s contention is “blatantly false.”
“Judge Schroeder’s ruling identifies the real problem with HB142 — that it does not bar transgender people from using restrooms based on their identity,” Fitzgerald said in an email statement Monday. “However, there are other laws that would.”
If that seems contradictory, well, yes. If there are other laws that ban transgender people from using restrooms based on their identity, why would Fitzgerald fret that the real problem with HB142 is that it doesn’t do the same? Just in case, we asked Fitzgerald to cite the N.C. laws that made her characterize Carcano’s statement as false. As of Wednesday, she hadn’t done so.
There’s likely a reason: North Carolina has no laws that tell transgender people which bathrooms they can and can’t use. If a North Carolina business or public institution wants to let transgender people choose which bathroom matches their identity, that’s allowed. If a business wants to require transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender assigned at birth, that’s also not prohibited. (And if a transgender person doesn’t obey that directive, he or she could be subject to arrest for trespassing.)
The latter, however, is discrimination, same as it would be if a business had policies against blacks. But in North Carolina, unlike some other states, transgender people aren’t offered such protections under state law, which is why Charlotte tried to offer its own in 2016. That, of course, led to HB2, which eventually was replaced by HB142.
Here’s what hasn’t happened, however: In those N.C. businesses that allow transgender people to choose their bathrooms — and in states that allow the same — no one is being assaulted or preyed upon. The privacy and safety issues that Fitzgerald and others still cite have always been manufactured. We hope all businesses and public institutions understand that and allow transgender people the freedom and dignity of choice.
We’re less hopeful that the six LGBT plaintiffs will be successful in their lawsuit; courts have generally deferred to North Carolina’s Constitution, which gives the state legislature the power to tell cities and counties what to do. Until the makeup of that legislature changes, our state will continue to allow transgender discrimination, even if the law doesn’t mandate it.