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Senate budget taxes hybrid cars, extends ferry tolls, broadens transportation board

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Here are some of the transportation funding and policy changes outlined in the proposed Senate budget (PDF) released Sunday. Some of these are new proposals, and others were previously aired this spring in separate legislation:

Try to acquire federal land around Oregon Inlet: The Oregon Inlet Land Acquisition Task Force is established to study the state's options for acquiring land around the Oregon Inlet from the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so the state can preserve the navigability of Oregon Inlet.

Charge tolls on all ferries: Order the state Department of Transportation to begin collecting tolls on all seven ferry routes by November 1, with rates high enough to generate $5 million to $10 million a year in revenues. This would include tolls on the two routes that the General Assembly said last year would stay toll-free: Hatteras Inlet and Currituck Sound.

Collect dividends and demand more accountability from N.C. Railroad: Add two state Board of Transportation members to the board of the privately operated, state-owned railroad. Require more reporting from the railroad, sell some unneeded railroad land and collect annual dividends from railroad lease revenues.

Increase fees for driver education class: Local schools would be allowed to charge teens up to $65 for driver education class, up from the current $45.

Implement Gov. Pat McCrory's proposed Strategic Mobility Formula: Adopt McCrory's proposal, which would determine how most transportation funds are distributed across the state, including modifications recently made in the House of Representatives.

Cancel the legislature's "Red Route" study ban, which has prevented NCDOT from winning regulatory approval of any route for the next leg of the Triangle Expressway, extending the 540 Outer Loop across southern Wake County from Holly Springs to I-40 near Garner.

Cancel the state's statutory pledge to build three other toll projects: the Mid-Currituck Bridge, the Cape Fear Skyway and the Garden Parkway.

Expand the state Board of Transportation: Along with its 19 members appointed by the governor, add a state House appointee and a state Senate appointee. Create a new turnpike committee and give it the power previously vested in the separate N.C. Turnpike Authority.

Collect $1.5 million in new fees from electric and hybrid car owners: Electric car owners would pay a $100 annual fee. Owners of hybrid cars, who also pay tax on the gas and diesel fuel their cars and trucks consume, would pay a $50 fee.

Allow fund transfers: $218.1 million in Highway Fund money transferred to the General Fund in fiscal year 2013-14, $215.9 million in 2014-15.

Ban government drones and drone snooping: No local or state agency can procure or operate an "unmanned aircraft system or disclose personal information about any person acquired through the operation of an unmanned aircraft system" without approval of the state chief information officer.

Provide money for dredging shallow coastal channels: A Shallow Draft Navigation Channel Dredging Fund is established, with $2.3 million from the gas tax and money from Wildlife Resources Commission fees, to maintain navigation channels in coastal waterways.

Spend money for DMV improvements: Increase Division of Motor Vehicles budget to upgrade technology and allow more offices to open their doors on Saturdays.

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About the blogger

Bruce Siceloff reports on traffic and transportation. A News & Observer reporter, editor and blogger since 1976, he took over the Road Worrier column in 2003. Lately he drives I-40 with the cruise control set at 68 mph. You can e-mail Bruce, call him at 919-829-4527, check out his Crosstown Traffic blog or follow him (@Road_Worrier) on Twitter.