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State budget gives ferries a $11.3M boost and cuts $4.4M from road maintenance

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Sharply increased spending in the state Ferry Division will eat up an extra $11.3 million from the state Highway Fund, according to a new state budget moving toward approval in the legislature today - and the state Department of Transportation will have to cut road maintenance spending by $4.4 million.

The 2010-2011 budget proposed by House and Senate conferees also will:

* Set aside just $46 million to inaugurate the N.C. Mobility Fund proposed by Gov. Bev Perdue, who had sought nearly $100 million. The fund is supposed to pay for big statewide transportation projects, but it will take several years to produce enough money for its first priority, a $150 million widening project on Interstate 85 north of the Yadkin River bridge at Salisbury.

Perdue had proposed $75 million in increased motor vehicle registration fees to help launch the Mobility Fund.  Legislators nixed the DMV fee hikes but agreed to create the Mobility Fund with some of the money that otherwise would be transferred each year from the Highway Trust Fund to the state’s General Fund.

* Create two more exemptions to the so-called “equity formula” for distributing state and federal road-building money across the state.

Federal grants for the Appalachian Development Highway System now will be spent only in the mountain counties for which they are intended, instead of being shared with other counties across the state.

Also, along with the N.C. Mobility Fund project to widen I-85 near the Yadkin Bridge, the budget will exempt a related $150 million project getting under way this year to widen the bridge itself.  That means this $300 million in Yadkin / I-85 spending will not be subtracted from other road-building money distributed in nearby counties under the equity formula.

* Soften a House proposal to punish the Global TransPark Authority, a state-owned industrial park in Lenoir County, for ignoring the legislature’s March deadline for a report on the authority’s plan for paying down its $37.8 million debt to the state.

The new budget will cut $320,000 or 25 percent from the state’s appropriation for  Global TransPark.  The House had proposed cutting twice that much.  And Global TransPark has a new deadline for filing that report: Dec. 31. 

House members, alarmed by steep increases in the state ferry budget, had proposed a measure that would prod NCDOT to make ferry travelers cover a larger share of the operating costs. 

Most ferries are free, and the toll ferries at Ocracoke and Southport charge riders much less than comparable ferries in other states.   Ferry riders now cover only 6 percent of the cost.  The House proposal, which would direct the Ferry Division to come up with toll rates that would cover 100 percent of the cost, was not included in the budget released this week.

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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.