By Lisa Sorg
In the new state budget, signed into law by Gov. Cooper, the General Assembly included a raft of one-time appropriations of varying sizes that feature extremely vague descriptions and very few details as to the specific purpose for which the funds are to be used.
For example, in the Department of Transportation budget, lawmakers allotted a $5 million grant to a Winston-Salem nonprofit known as AeroX for the “development of an urban advanced air mobility system.”
According to the group’s website:
AeroX is a nonprofit organization of business, government and community partners focused on creating a national model ecosystem for advanced air mobility ecosystem in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, North Carolina. Our goal: help companies thrive by developing and leveraging unmanned aircraft technologies.”
The website goes on to explain that the nonprofit is actually managed by a for-profit firm known as Hovecon. In turn, the Hovecon website describes the company’s work this way:
Hovecon brings over 10 years of unique experience of collaborating with industry, academia and government to enable the growth and safe integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), Urban Air Mobility (UAM), and Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM).”
A man named Basil Yap serves as President of the AeroX board and as a vice president at Hovecon. The President of Hovecon is a woman named Rebecca Yap.
From a review of the websites, it appears that the funds will be used to improve the deployment of unmanned aircraft — sometimes referred to as drones. But as for how that will be done or what the deliverables might be from such a sizable investment of public funds, the budget is silent.
Notably, the $5 million in one-time money for AeroX is nearly three times the funds appropriated in 2022-23 the bike program, rail division and public transportation — combined.
Here are some more appropriations for the Department of Transportation. Figures are for each biennium (2021-22 and 2022-23) unless otherwise noted.
$2.6 billion — total appropriation for the department
$1.5 billion — for projects paid for by the federal Highway Trust Fund
$570.6 million — for resurfacing roads
$49 million — from the Highway Trust Fund to the Turnpike Authority, which oversees the state’s toll roads
$14 million — in one-time funds for rural transportation, from the federal American Rescue Plan
$4.1 million — in one-time funds for intercity bus service, from the ARP
$2.79 million — for the bicycle program, 2021-22
$790,000 — bicycle program, 2022-23
$1.9 million — for the LYNX Blue light rail line in Charlotte, which will close out the project
$1 million — available for leasing a Hatteras-to-Ocracoke passenger ferry for summer 2022 season if the current ferry under construction isn’t ready by March 30, 2022
$608,000 — for the rail division, each biennium
$391,000 — for public transportation, each biennium
$1,200 — hourly rate for state agencies, except for DOT, to use the Hawker Beechcraft King Air B200 plane, through June 30, 2023
193 — number of DOT positions eliminated that have been vacant for at least four years