Transportation spending changes approved this morning by a House budget subcommittee would cut state ferry appropriations by $10 million a year and require tolls on all ferries; put new restrictions on the state’s ability to accept federal rail grants; and focus more transportation spending on roads and bridges.
“It redirects precious resources to allow for approximately $700 million to be expended [over the next two years] on maintenance and construction projects that will improve safety and relieve congestion across the state,” said Rep. Ric Killian, a Charlotte Republican who is co-chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee. [4/22/11 update: see today's story.]
Some of that money is rerouted from other areas of the budget. Much of it is simply shifted from related funds governed by legislative formulas that already include roads and bridges but give the Department of Transportation more latitude in deciding how to spend it.
A department official said DOT already has shifted its priorities to increase spending for road and bridge upkeep.
“What’s important is the General Assembly’s direction to keep our internal focus, which we have done since 2009, on improving pavements, improving the maintenance condition and reducing the substandard, structurally deficient bridges,” said Jim Trogdon, DOT’s chief operating officer. “It will increase what is dedicated to them.”
If the proposed transportation budget is adopted by the full General Assembly and Gov. Bev Perdue:
* DOT will be required to collect tolls on its four free ferry routes, and to raise rates on the three ferries that charge tolls now, probably starting in early 2012. The budget requires DOT to increase ferry toll revenues by $5 million during fiscal year 2011-2012, which starts in July, and by $7.5 million the next year. DOT is conducting a traffic and revenue study now, to help determine how high the new ferry tolls will be.
DOT will have to raise rates on the routes tolled now – two across the Pamlico Sound, linking Ocracoke Island to the mainland at Swan Quarter and Cedar Island (now $15 per car), and one across the Cape Fear River between Southport and Fort Fisher ($5).
And for the first time, riders also will pay on routes that now are toll-free:
- - Currituck to Knotts Island across the Currituck Sound.
- - Bayview to Aurora across the Pamlico River
- - Cherry Branch to Minnesott Beach across the Neuse River
- - Hatteras to Ocracoke Island across Hatteras Inlet
* DOT will have to consult the legislature before it accepts federal railroad improvement grants that would commit the state to as much as $3 million in matching capital grants or in annual operating and maintenance costs. If the state’s commitment rises above $5 million, DOT will have to receive the legislature’s approval before it can accept the federal grants.
The new restrictions would be applied to any money DOT receives out of $624 million it recently requested in federal high-speed rail grants, but it would not affect $520 million in funds the federal government already has committed to North Carolina.
The budget language on rail oversight, pushed by Killian, is stronger than a similar measure that was weakened by the House Transportation Committee when it was considered as separate legislation this week. Democrat rail supporters protested that was wrong to add the same language as a budget provision, but Republican leaders overruled them.
* The Division of Motor Vehicles will start charging commercial database vendors and other parties 3 cents per record for data on records about drivers, vehicles and crashes. The state hopes to rake in at least $5 million a year in new revenues.