GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The first full week of January will provide two significant benchmarks for how much of the rest of 2022 might go. Sometime soon after that, there will be a third huge moment that will be a dramatic consequence to society.
Nationally there is the first anniversary of the Capitol insurrection of Jan. 6. The investigation in Congress will progress, and the recollection of that tragic day could be the impetus for new information to emerge. Will the committee conclude its investigation in the coming year? Will lawmakers pursue criminal charges against officials? Will this investigation finally draw focus on the insurrection’s role in conjunction with other efforts to attack Democracy as we have known it?
In Raleigh two court cases will be tried simultaneously that will help to determine who might get to answer some of those questions. A trial will decide whether the maps for election districts, which the General Assembly adopted in November, will stand as they are or be required to be redrawn with less political focus, as they were for the election in 2020. The balance of power in the state may hinge on this trial, which starts Jan. 3 and will be concluded by Jan. 6, as stipulated by the state Supreme Court, and its likely subsequent appeals.
Then sometime early in 2022 the U.S. Supreme Court will decide on challenge to Mississippi’s new law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Questions by the justices at the hearing on Dec. 1 have led observers to believe that the court could uphold the law or even go to the next step and strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which created a legal option for women to choose abortion. No matter the decision, though, the arguments about abortion rights will continue.
On top of everything happening anywhere we layer the omnipresent COVID-19 pandemic, where the omicron variant caused a new surge at the end of the year that set records for new cases. Those record totals likely will be measured into January and February. With about 27% of the population of the U.S. so far unvaccinated and 11% of those vaccinated not having been fully vaccinated (with a booster), there is the possibility – even likelihood – more contagious variants will emerge after omicron. Internationally lower vaccination rates mitigate this possibility as well, but the virus can continue to regenerate as long as there are available hosts (such as an unvaccinated you or me).
But beyond those, here are five issues that were introduced to the Piedmont Triad in 2021 (or before) and that will be significant as the next year unfolds:
1. Whom will we elect?
In 2022 we will determine again who controls Congress, and North Carolina will play a major role on that national political stage, from how the state draws the lines for its 14 House seats to who is elected to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr. The Primary Election now is May 18. Cheri Beasley, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, appears nearly a lock to be the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat, but the GOP race is a battle among Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance), former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro, with a lot of big names and big money lining up to be factors in this race. Walker has said he is mulling a request to move from the Senate race to running again for the House. His choice could be a deciding factor for the other two candidates.
Walker aside, we don’t know the full fields for many congressional elections because of the contested district lines, although many incumbents have announced and/or filed before the state Supreme Court stopped the filing window. 6th District Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) is one of them, because the new maps split her current district among three others for Guilford County and a fourth for Winston-Salem
Voters also will decide who serves in the General Assembly (new district lines there, too), who serves in the state and local courts and who will lead the city of Greensboro and various boards of county commissioners and some school boards.
2. Will Project Thunderbird take wing?
You know by now that the General Assembly set aside $106.75 million in a Job Development Investment Grant for “a high-yield project for an airplane manufacturer in Guilford County,” on the 1,000-or-so available acres at Piedmont Triad International Airport. You know this is likely to mean at least 500 $60,000-a-year jobs – some have said more like 1,700 – and that the airline reportedly being romanced is Boom Supersonic of Denver, the company building the next generation of the former Concorde SST. Although this so-called “Project Thunderbird” has been judged by some to be very likely, the dance is continuing, and the NC Department of Commerce will have to approve those incentives. You can bet when that happens that there will be a big announcement, such as we saw when Toyota chose the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite as the location for its planned facility to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles.
3. Will climate change remain in the air?
Speaking of electric vehicles, we will continue to see continued implementation of measures to encourage climate conscientiousness and to protect the planet. Reducing carbon is the essence of that, and the effort to control emissions from petroleum products and promote greener construction and energy solutions will continue earnestly. The World Meteorological Association says that 2021 will be one of the warmest years in recorded history and that the 7-year window between 2015 and 2021 are the seven warmest years on record. Oceans are warmer than ever, and extreme weather events continue to emerge in seasons when they normally wouldn’t (such as the devastating and deadly tornadoes that plowed across the South in early December). This likely will be a key issue in the elections, too, as some candidates suggest the restrictions are bad for the economy and unacceptable even if they are bad for the planet. But current leaders are being aggressive in addressing the growing problem. President Joe Biden in April announced a goal for the United States by 2030 to achieve a 50% to 52% reduction in greenhouse gas pollution from 2005 levels. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in October signed new bipartisan state energy law, which calls for “the North Carolina Utilities Commission to take steps needed to get North Carolina a 70% reduction in carbon emission by the year 2030 and to carbon neutrality by 2050.”
4. Can we have nice schools for everyone?
Estimates are that North Carolina has a $13 billion backlog in funding to rebuild and replace crumbling schools in the next five years. The General Assembly so far has declined to create a statewide bond issue (as it did in 2016 for colleges and universities, when voters approved $2 billion for construction). Guilford County Schools has taken the aggressive approach by creating its own $1.7 billion bond referendum to address a list of more than 100 facilities that need to be replaced and repaired. That will be up to voters in May, and it follows a $300 million bond in 2020 that paid for a handful of ongoing projects.
5. Will our road projects continue to lay down the asphalt?
Whether its traffic is powered by gasoline, electricity or even solar power, the Greensboro Urban Loop has been planned for decades and under construction since 2013. That project, typically called I-840, connects I-40, I-85, I-73, U.S. 29 and various other major thoroughfares. And its final 16.5 miles in four sections are complete except for the last few miles from North Elm Street to U.S. 29. That section is scheduled to open in early 2023, but the most recently opened section – from Lawndale Drive to North Elm – was well ahead of schedule, so we can hope for late 2022 to be the big finish. NCDOT officials haven’t reforecast that completion. Meanwhile, the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway is the other major project under way in the region, having begun in 2014. This road covers 34.5 miles, from U.S. 158 southwest of the city to U.S. 311/I-74 southeast of the city and connects I-40 on both ends with I-74/U.S. 52 North, U.S. 421 (formerly Business 85). A small portion between 421/Business 40 and roughly Walkertown is complete, but the rest is ongoing construction in various stages. The section in the southeast from I-74 to I-40 is scheduled to be completed in 2022. When will the entire project be finished? The NCDOT does have a forecast on that: “TBD.”