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Federal transportation stimulus money won't travel far in North Carolina

A federal stimulus package moving through Congress would give North Carolina about $900 million for new road, bridge and transit projects — and that’s just a few drops in a leaky bucket.

Dwindling receipts from gas and car sales taxes will cut state transportation revenues by $300 million a year for the next three years, state Transportation Secretary Gene Conti told a House-Senate oversight committee today.

“That $900 million from the federal government sounds great,” Conti said, “but ... you’re kind of just breaking even, if you want to look at it that way.” ... [MORE]

Think the driving was wild today?

Tomorrow, the forecasters say, we'll move like tigers on vaseline. Leftovers from today's snow will freeze when temps drop below 20 tonight, returning by daybreak as nasty black ice.

“When there’s a wet snow you can get some traction, but tomorrow we expect it to be frozen solid," says Capt. Everett Clendenin of the State Highway Patrol.

"You just cannot get traction in these types of conditions. So the best advice we can give is don’t drive unless you absolutely have to."

The forecast as of 4pm Tuesday: Overnight low 17, high Wednesday 35. There'll be nothing melting before midday. 

NCDOT road crews will be out between 6 and 7 a.m. with their salt trucks and plows. DOT had about 450 people clearing major roads in its seven-county Division Five area Monday night and today.

Circulator bus routes for Raleigh and Durham


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Frequent, fare-free circulator buses will start rolling around downtown by mid-February in Raleigh and, probably, by late March in Durham.

These new buses will make it easier to move around the center city without worrying so much where your car is parked -- whether you work downtown or live downtown, or you're coming downtown to dine, shop or play.

Rob and Linda Stahl of Raleigh were glad to read about it. One of them said by e-mail: "I can see our family using the circulator when we go downtown to our favorite museum – the Natural Science Museum."

But the Stahls wanted to see route maps, which appeared in the print edition today but not online. ... [MORE]

A posh rolling hotel for the inaugural journey


Stephan and Kim Jackson of Durham agreed months ago that they must be in Washington next week to witness the historic inauguration of America’s first black president.

But they didn’t want to take part in what could be a history-making traffic jam on Interstate 95.

So the Jacksons booked passage on a rolling hotel that will pick them up Saturday morning at the Amtrak station in Raleigh. They’ll join travelers on a pair of private rail cars, operated by a small South Carolina railway company, traveling to Washington attached the Amtrak Carolinian.

The trip includes gourmet food and drink, and a four-night stay in the center of the nation’s capital — sleeping on the train, parked at Union Station. The fare is $1,800 a person.

“Economically, we are sort of taking a leap of faith, because we’ve never ridden on a rail car before,” ... [MORE]

Green light for North Carolina's highway safety laws

North Carolina’s highway safety laws have earned the state a top “green light” rating in a new 50-state report from a Washington-based coalition of insurance, safety and consumer groups.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says North Carolina should adopt three laws, proven to reduce crashes and save lives, that are not on the books here.

The report, "2009 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws," calls on the state to:

* Require ignition interlock devices for everyone convicted of impaired driving, including first-time DWI offenders. The device measures blood-alcohol content in the driver’s breath; if the driver is impaired, the car won’t start. Only 7 states require ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders.
[MORE] ...

Bus riders' new habits die hard

When gas cost more than $3.50 during the six warm months of 2008, a lot of us parked our cars and tried the bus.

It’s interesting to see how many Triangle residents kept riding the bus this winter, even after gas prices returned to 2004 levels. The Road Worrier mentioned that fact this week, without all of the latest numbers to back it up.

The local average price for regular gas fell from $3.89 to $2.66 in October, then to $1.80 by the end of November, and $1.58 on the last day of December, according to fuelgaugereport.com.

Here are rider counts reported by three local transit lines for the last three months of 2008, compared to the same months in 2007:

Durham’s DATA
October 513,533 riders (up 17% from 2007)
November 423,139 (up 4%)
December 418,241 (up 11%)

Raleigh’s CAT
October 468,331 (up 32% from 2007)
November 383,159 (up 5%)
December 381,563 (up 26%)

Triangle Transit
October 123,431 (up 41% from 2007)
November 85,264 (up 13%)
December 59,323 (up 0.5%)

Perdue, Conti inherit miles of bad pavement

I-795Two interstate highway paving blunders mark the Easley-Tippett legacy at NCDOT: bad concrete on I-40 in Durham County and, now, bad asphalt on I-795 between Wilson and Goldsboro.

Next week Bev Perdue and Gene Conti will take charge of a DOT that has been staggered over the past eight years by twin deficits in finance and credibility.

The bungled paving job on I-40 cost DOT $22.4 million in repairs — and more in lost political capital. A new report from the Federal Highway Administration says I-795, North Carolina's newest interstate, also needs a major repave that will cost $14 million to $22 million.

DOT had no defenders in 2007 when Gov. Mike Easley ridiculed its “absurd” warning (from his own appointees) that anemic gas and car sales tax collections would fall $65 billion short of North Carolina’s road and transit needs over the next 25 years. . . . [MORE]

RDU board talks policy and personnel in closed session

Jim Tatum, attorney for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, says there’s a good reason the airport board is meeting behind closed doors today.

The board and airport director John Brantley are receiving a report from a consultant, Capital Associated Industries Inc., on a five-month “human resources study” of RDU.

The report is a mix of general policy discussion (which is supposed to be discussed in the open, according to North Carolina’s open meetings law) and job-performance analysis regarding specific airport employees (which legally can be discussed in private), Tatum said before the meeting started this afternoon. . . .

Gas prices bounce back

Here's a Newtonian corollary: What went down is going back up.

The Triangle average pump price for regular rose by 4 cents overnight to $1.680 today [update: $1.721 Thursday], after apparently bottoming out Jan. 2 at $1.572.

If the cheap ride is over, it was fun while it lasted.

A 15-gallon fill-up costs $25.20 in the Triangle today. That's less than half what we paid four months ago — $60.81, when a gallon sold for an excruciating $4.054.

You can still find regular around the Triangle today for less than $1.60, according to raleighgasprices.com.

But maybe not for much longer. Oil prices have risen more than 40 percent since their lowest point, $33 a barrel on Dec. 19. OPEC production cuts and Mideast tensions are getting some of the blame for the price increases.

Too late to stop that train

JP Henderson Rail CarThink you might like to ride that luxury train to the Obama inaugural in Washington, D.C.?

Pay $1,800 to drink expensive wine, eat fancy food and snuggle in a comfy bed on your rail car, parked for four nights at Union Station?

Forget it. All sold out.

“The last couple of berths went within an hour and a half after your story appeared,” said John Mickey of the Lancaster & Chester Railway, who doubles as chef and booking agent for two rolling hotels called the J. Pinckney Henderson and the Hollywood Beach.

“They went fast. People were calling me like 8 o’clock in the morning. I could fill up three or four more rail cars if I had some with bedrooms.”