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GOP senators would slash rail transit and toll road projects, but they might not cap gas tax

Senate Republican leaders said today they want to spend much more money on bridge repair and highway maintenance -- and to slash state spending for transit and turnpike projects.

But, while both the House and Senate budgets would reduce other taxes in several areas, Senate leaders said they had not decided whether to take action to prevent a sharp increase in the state gas tax scheduled to take effect in July.

The Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee today received, but was not allowed to vote on, a proposed two-year transportation budget (see documents attached to this post) that would make some big changes in budget proposals offered by Gov. Bev Perdue and the House of Representatives.

The Senate would:

• Kill the $660 million Mid-Currituck Bridge toll project for the Currituck Outer Banks and the $870 million Garden Parkway in Gaston and Mecklenburg counties. [Update: See 5/25/11 story.]... [MORE]

1306435277 GOP senators would slash rail transit and toll road projects, but they might not cap gas tax The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Ocracokers still face threat, in Senate, of new ferry tolls

View NC Ferry Routes in a larger map

The ferry toll fight is not over for Ocracokers.

Senate Republicans are expected next week to propose that the state collect tolls on all four ferry routes that now are free – including the Hatteras-Ocracoke and Currituck-Knotts Island ferries – and to increase toll rates on three other ferries. The changes would be written into the Senate’s version of the budget.

“The tolls have been fairly low, and they're just trying to get them up closer to what would be reflective of the current cost of service,” said Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican who co-chairs the Senate Budget Committee. “Not trying to cover the entire cost, but just a little bit more of it.”

The Republican-led House agreed a few weeks ago in its budget proposal to keep the Knotts Island and Hatteras-Ocracoke ferries toll-free. Ferries provide the only link between the two islands and the North Carolina mainland. Ocracokers protested that it would be unfair to make residents and visitors start paying. ... [MORE]

Looks like two ferries will stay toll-free

View NC Ferry Routes in a larger map

Accepting the same rationale that was used last week to benefit riders on the busy Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry, the House voted 115-1 this morning to keep the less busy Currituck - Knotts Island ferry toll-free.

So two routes that carry one-third of all ferry traffic will not be tolled. That'll make it harder for NCDOT to offset a $10 million cut in state ferry spending.

House leaders originally planned to require that DOT collect tolls on all four routes that are free now: Hatteras-Ocracoke, Currituck-Knotts Island, Bayview-Aurora, and Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach. 

Tolls also would have to be increased on the three routes where riders pay now:  Southport - Fort Fisher (now $5 per car) and Cedar Island-Ocracoke and Swan Quarter-Ocracoke (both now $15 per car).

They made an exception last week to preserve a toll-free link to the mainland for Ocracoke Islanders on the Hatteras ferry, which carries more than 300,000 vehicles a year.

The Knotts Island ferry, which handles 25,000 vehicles a year, got the same deal in a House floor vote today. ... [MORE]

DOT restores Ocracoke ferry runs cut last summer

Where'd they find the money?  DOT says it will reinstate four Ocracoke toll ferry runs that, because of budget cuts and increased federal staffing requirements, were cut from the schedule last summer.

Starting May 25, DOT will offer six daily round-trips from Cedar Island, instead of the four that operated last summer -- and four instead of two daily round-trips from Swan Quarter. Find the schedule online at www.ncferry.org.

DOT blamed last year's cutbacks on budget reductions and new Coast Guard staffing standards that would have required 74 additional ferry crew members and five additional shipyard workers to handle increased inspection and maintenance schedules.

"We had been given the go-ahead earlier this year to hire the people we neeed," Lucy Wallace, the DOT Ferry Division spokeswoman, said today.

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