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Senate delays vote on $797K bill to rip up highway median

A bill intended to re-engineer some road projects that legislators don't like was pulled from the Senate floor today and rerouted "for a little further workup" in the Rules Committee -- which sometimes serves as a legislative graveyard -- at the request of the Rules chairman, Republican Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville.

House Bill 561 would require NCDOT to tear out nearly one-half mile of a center median recently built on NC 191 in Asheville, and replace it with a center turn lane -- at a cost estimated by NCDOT at $797,500.  [See today's story with reader comments.]

The bill also would require NCDOT to cancel plans to install medians, which restrict left turns, on parts of U.S. 70 in Kinston, U.S. 64 in Asheboro and Winstead Avenue in Rocky Mount. ... [MORE]

Senate to vote on vetoing 4 DOT highway median projects

A Senate floor vote is scheduled Tuesday on a bill that would require NCDOT to rip up part of an Asheville highway project, and to re-engineer a growing list of road projects that some legislators don't like. [5/10/11 update: see today's story.]

The projects – four, at last count – all feature new center medians that are designed to limit left turns. DOT says they'll cut crashes and ease traffic congestion.  Some merchants say they'll be bad for business. Legislators disagree over whether these decisions should be left to DOT or subject to the General Assembly's oversight.

DOT figures it would cost an extra $797,500 to rip out a half-mile of center median recently built as part of a project to widen NC 191 in Asheville, and replace it with a center turn lane as specified in the bill.  The other affected projects ... [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]

Locke report warns against N.C. fast-train plans

Wendell CoxThe John Locke Foundation today issued a 14-page report attacking North Carolina’s plans for beefed-up passenger train service. It called on the state to reject hundreds of millions of dollars in federal high-speed rail grants, and suggested that intercity buses would be a better investment.

The report by writer Wendell Cox (see photo) seeks to validate warnings by state Rep. Ric Killian, a Charlotte Republican, that the planned rail upgrade will hurt freight railroads, weaken the state-owned N.C. Railroad and stick state taxpayers with heavy annual expenses – without providing economic benefits, easing highway congestion or improving air quality. ... [MORE]

House votes today on anti-rail push to curb DOT 'joy ride'

A House vote is scheduled this afternoon on a bill by Charlotte Rep. Ric Killian that would require NCDOT to consult the legislature before it accepts more federal high-speed rail grants.

Killian wants to do more. He calls state-supported passenger rail service "a joy ride" (see today's Road Worrier column) and says the money does nothing to reduce road congestion or improve transportation safety. ... [MORE]

Republicans help pro-rail Democrats win skirmish with train foes

Republicans on the House Transportation Committee helped Democrats turn back a GOP proposal today that would give the legislature veto power over the state’s ability to accept federal railroad improvement grants – but rail foes will have another chance in a transportation budget vote Wednesday.

GOP Rep. Ric Killian of Mecklenburg County abandoned his push to make the state Department of Transportation send $461 million in rail improvement grants back to Washington. He changed tactics with an approach that could squelch chances for more money, including $624 million requested by DOT two weeks ago.

The committee voted 17-15 to weaken Killian's bill, and then approved language that only requires DOT to consult the legislature before accepting rail grants. ... [MOVE]

House Republican budget plan would handcuff rail grants

While Senate Republican leaders have said they won’t go along with legislation to block the state from spending $461 million in federal railroad improvement grants, some House Republicans have redoubled their effort to kill the rail projects and return the money to Washington.

Rep. Ric Killian, a Mecklenburg County Republican who had pulled his kill bill from the House Transportation Committee agenda last week, said Thursday that the committee would resume debate on his proposal next week.

“That bill is still alive and well, and it is going to be heard in some way, shape or form next Tuesday,” Killian said at a meeting of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, which is debating the transportation section of the House budget plan.

Meanwhile, Killian and other House members have drafted a special budget provision that would take a different approach by subjecting the state Department of Transportation Rail Division to new, unusual layers of legislative oversight.  ... [MORE]

NC Republicans abandon hope of killing high-speed rail

A Republican push to reject $461 million in federal railroad improvement grants for North Carolina appears to have collapsed. [4/10/11 update: more details in today's story.]

The high-speed rail kill bill championed by state Rep. Ric Killian of Charlotte was pulled Friday from the agenda of the House Transportation Committee, which had been scheduled to vote on the measure next week. Killian's bill was attacked at this week's committee meeting by Democrats, mayors and business advocates.

The Charlotte Business Journal reports that another Mecklenburg County Republican, Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, said at a Charlotte business meeting Friday that GOP leaders agreed that North Carolina should keep the $545 million in high-speed and intercity passenger rail grants awarded in early 2010 by the Obama administration. ... [MORE]

Senate endorses bill to kill Raleigh, Cary, Knightdale red-light cameras

In a 36-14 vote, the Senate gave preliminary approval today to a bill that would kill red-light cameras in the last remaining North Carolina cities that use them: Wilmington, Knightdale, Cary and Raleigh. [4/8/11 update: see today's story with reader comments.]

The bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Don East of Pilot Mountain, is a former Winston-Salem police officer who argues that drivers should be able to cross-examine the officer to gives them a traffic ticket.

“You ought to be able to say, ‘Officer, are you right sure that light was red?’” East said during floor debate. His Senate Bill 187 will move to the House if it passes a final Senate vote next week.

Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, argued that local officials should be allowed to decide whether to use the cameras. He cited crash statistics that credit red-light cameras with reducing right-angle collisions, caused when a driver runs a red light, at two busy corners in downtown Raleigh. ... [MORE]

DOT wants $624M more federal rail money -- not $461M less

As a House committee prepares today to debate a Republican proposal to have the Perdue administration return $461 million in rail stimulus funds to Washington, Perdue's Department of Transportation is asking Washington for $624 million more. [4/6/11 update: see today's story with reader comments.]

North Carolina would use the new funds to:

- replace outmoded train stations in Charlotte and Raleigh,
- build new ones in Hillsborough and Lexington,
- add more freight and passenger service between Raleigh and Charlotte,
- complete the environmental studies and purchase an abandoned CSX rail corridor for a new high-speed shortcut from Raleigh to Richmond, for trains that would travel at speeds up to 110mph, and
- make rail safety improvements between Raleigh and Charlotte.

The new application (documents attached below) seeks a share of $2.4 billion in funds that became available after Florida's governor killed a high-speed rail project between Tampa and Orlando, and sent the money back.

The application was filed as the House Transportation Committee prepared today to debate a bill by Rep. Ric Killian and 12 other House Republicans to kill North Carolina's high-speed rail program, and to join Ohio and Florida in sending the money back to Washington. ... [MORE]

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