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Let's put wide boats to another vote, Basnight says

Easley veto of HB 2167 Sen. Marc Basnight, the state Senate leader, wants to bring the General Assembly back to Raleigh to override Gov. Mike Easley’s veto of a bill allowing wider boat trailers on state roads at night.

Easley put his signature on a big red VETO stamp Sunday, saying it would be dangerous to let 9.5-foot-wide boats and trailers travel after dark on roads and bridges as narrow as 18 feet wide. He warned of collisions with other wide boats, and with school buses on pre-dawn routes.

“He doesn’t impress me on this issue,” Basnight said Monday. “I would certainly be for an override.

“I believe the bill is valuable to the economy, and it’s a very safe, well-constructed piece of legislation.” ...

Don't hold your breath for hydrogen

Hydrogen Road TourA caravan of hydrogen-fueled cars and SUVs paused to refuel today at Duke University, lingering long enough to let local folks lift the hood for a glimpse of zero-emission technology that might become part of our future.

So when do we get to drive one of these things home?

“It will almost surely take several decades before hydrogen-fueled vehicles could comprise a significant share of the automotive fleet,” says Richard Newell, Gendell Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Economics in Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Hydrogen fuel cells are pollution-free, but the complete environmental picture depends on how the hydrogen itself is produced — whether from nuclear or renewable energy sources or from fossil fuels. A mobile refueling tanker traveling with the tour carries hydrogen made with hydroelectric power.

“Significant scientific, economic and practical hurdles must be surmounted before hydrogen becomes a cost-effective part of the energy system,” Newell said.

For one thing, there can’t be a mass market for hydrogen cars unless the nation as a massive network of hydrogen fueling stations.

The Hydrogen Road Tour is ... 

Hydrogen cars plan refueling stop Friday at Duke

Hydrogen Road Tour A fleet of hydrogen-powered cars on a cross-country tour will make a refueling stop Friday at Duke University, just long enough for Triangle residents to see what all the talk is about.

Nissan, Toyota, BMW and other hydrogen cars will be on display from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in front of Duke Chapel.

At 12:15 p.m., the public is invited to a panel discussion on “Smart Grid and Hydrogen Economies” in Room 111, Biological Sciences, on Duke’s West Campus.

Here are online details about the national tour and the Duke event.

Nine auto-makers are among the co-sponsors of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Hydrogen Road Tour, a two-week tour of 31 stops in 18 states.

So that's what "stay-cation" means

Because gas is so expensive, we continue to drive less and even less. In June, North Carolinians drove an estimated 8.381 billion miles -- 477 million miles or 5.4 percent less than in June 2007.*

That's the eighth straight month that saw a drop in driving in North Carolina and across the country, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Nationally, the June decline was estimated at 4.7 percent. From November through June, Americans drove 53.2 billion miles less than during the same eight-month period a year earlier.

Gas prices were still rising in June -- we hit the $4 mark in the middle of the month. As we drive less, we buy less gas and pay less state and federal gas tax.

Now that prices are dipping a bit in August, will we start joy-riding again -- and making separate runs to the store for every bunch of bananas and gallon of milk?

-- *corrected NC numbers posted at 9:55 am 8/14/8

Congratulations! We're below average!!

The tax is always lower on the other side of the fence. Or is it?

Andy Shook expressed a familiar feeling when he returned to North Carolina recently. He believed he had moved into a higher tax bracket.

Bruce, after leaving NC in 1983, going to Atlanta, SC (Metro CLT) and returning to Apex, I am blown away by all the new, increased taxes in NC. In GA, it is written into the State constitution that all gas tax $ can only be spent on roads and bridges. They have the 2nd lowest gas tax and excellent roads. ...
SC, which has the lowest gas tax, also has it written that all gas tax only go to roads, bridges and heavy DOT equipment.

I prepared to commiserate with Andy. First, though, I did a little research. ...

What about those raids on the Highway Trust Fund?

Carol Bumpass wants to hear the rest of the story. So do Marjorie Minor, Jon Barsanti and Bob Eby.

I reported last week ("Frugal drivers put road funds in peril") that DOT is hurtin' because of a decline in revenues from the gas tax and the highway use tax on car sales.  And that's because the high price of gas has forced us to cut our driving — and our taxed spending on gas and cars.

Meanwhile, the state is growing like crazy and roadbuilding costs have doubled in six years. We need more transportation money, not less.

"Why not so a similar article on how robbery of the state's highway [trust] fund by our government officials and legislators has put our road funds in peril?" Bumpass said by e-mail.

The yearly transfer from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund was established by law at $170 million in 1989.  It became a genuine raid in 2001 when Gov. Easley and the legislative Dems decided they needed more than that to balance the General Fund budget.

If you've been thinking that they repaid the extra $525 million they removed from the Highway Trust Fund over five years -- you're only 24 percent correct.

Read today's Road Worrier ("Where do gas taxes really go?") -- and do the math.

As Minor says:  

"This is money that they charged us for gas taxes. It’s supposed to be for roads. They keep taking it away.

"Then the DOT turns around and says, ‘Well, gee, we don’t have any money.’ And I wonder, ‘why not?’ 

Bad concrete on I-540 -- this time, not DOT's fault

Unless stormy weather spoils their plans again, NCDOT engineers will squeeze traffic on westbound I-540 in northeast Raleigh into one lane this weekend so a contractor can rip out and replace two lanes of bad concrete.

The traffic squeeze affects traffic from US 64 Business (New Bern Road) to Buffalo Road, starting at 7 p.m. tonight (Friday) and ending by 6 a.m. Monday. Road crews will replace the entire 12-inch-deep concrete slab for a 500-foot distance in the center and outer lanes.

Vecellio & Grogan is the contractor responsible for the 9-mile 540 Outer Loop arc from U.S. 1 in North Raleigh to U.S. 64 in Knightdale, which opened in January 2007.  Even though we've been driving it for a year and a half, DOT has not yet given the contractor its final check and thank-you handshake. Not until the bad concrete is made good.

Cadmus Capehart, the DOT engineer responsible for the project, says some of the concrete pavement was discovered to be honeycombed with air gaps -- apparently caused when the mix of cement, rocks and water did not combine smoothly and uniformly before it was poured onto the roadbed. 

The problem covers parts of two lanes covering a total distance of about 2200 feet, mostly in the outer westbound lanes but some in the inner eastbound lanes.This is the second weekend of work, and they'll need about two more to finish the job.

It's a lot of concrete, but nothing as extensive as DOT's botched concrete paving job on I-40 in Durham County in 2003, which covered two lanes in each direction for 10 miles.  That screwup cost taxpayers $21.7 million and plenty of headaches in 2006 and 2007. 

The I-540 fix will inconvenience drivers for a few weekends, but the money will come from the contractor's pocket. 


Southern Beltline repair work winding down

NCDOT's nighttime pavement repair job on Raleigh's I-40 southern Beltline could be wrapped up by the end of the month.

S.T. Wooten started an $8.5 million job last fall to replace broken concrete slabs and make extensive pavement repairs on 13 miles of I-40 from Exit 289 (Wade Avenue in West Raleigh) to Exit 301 (the Beltline / I-40 split in southeast Raleigh). 

Mark W. Luther, the DOT engineer overseeing this work, says Wooten crews last week were sealing cracks in eastbound lanes and putting down the final top layer of new Ultrathin asphalt elsewhere. He said he hopes to meet the Aug. 31 completion deadline specified in the contract.

In 2010, DOT will start widening I-40 from four to six lanes for four miles between Exit 289 and Exit 293 (US 1/64).

Drive faster on I-40, or drive 45mph somewhere else

After my friend Lydia tuned in to a Saturday evening TV news discussion about highway speed limits (“Headline Saturday” on WRAL), she left me a phone message that chilled me when I heard it this morning.

I recently had discovered for myself that it isn't safe to drive 55 mph amid all the 70-plus-mph speeders on I-40. So I was alarmed to hear Lydia say she has been driving even more slowly on I-40 -- all in the name of fuel economy.

I’ve been driving 45 mph on the interstate. I only go maybe 10 miles up the interstate -- it is quite dangerous to do that, so you have to pick your time. I’m not out there in rush hour, out there when the crazies are out.

I do get a few that get upset with me. They honk and they show expletives. But nevertheless I get 39 to 40 miles per gallon doing that, and I like that.

Yikes! I called her back and urged her to find a safer route for going 45 mph -- or a safer, higher speed for driving on I-40.

Don't try this on I-40

I was on cruise control near Hillsborough when a king-cab Dodge pickup charged into my rear-view, its hood ornamented with a gleaming ram’s head.

I braced for a head-butt that would turn my car into a Honda Accordion.

I was driving 55 mph on Interstate 40. It was legal. It was a good way to cut the cost of gas. But it didn’t feel safe.

The Dodge Ram guy scowled and hit the brakes. He looked close enough to be riding in my back seat, but I couldn’t quite hear what was on his mind. ...

Did we come to blows on the shoulder? Did I teach this gas guzzler a lesson in physics and fuel economy? Check the Q section Drive-55 package to find out.