Move by Rabon deals heavy blow to Cape Fear Skyway project
Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, has said he is concerned that politics are interfering with fair play in the road building process. StarNews file photo
Mar 6, 2013
By Molly Parker / Molly.Parker@StarNewsOnline.com
The proposed Cape Fear Skyway toll bridge and road between New Hanover and Brunswick counties may have suffered a mighty blow Wednesday with a move by Sen. Bill Rabon to remove the project from special standing in state statute and instead run it through a rigorous competition with other transportation projects statewide.
Rabon, R-Brunswick, sponsored an amendment to place this and other toll road projects into the regular, competitive rotation for state roads funding.
The amendment was endorsed by the Senate Transportation Committee and preliminarily by the full Senate on a 37-13 vote. Rabon has said he is concerned that politics are interfering with fair play in the road building process.
“It doesn’t point a finger at anyone,” he said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “It just makes everything fair and transparent for everyone and every project in the state.”
He did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, said she’s interested to hear from Rabon about his motivation for the amendment to House Bill 10, which was originally introduced as a technical bill related to a study of the Triangle Expressway Garner extension.
“I know Sen. Rabon usually does things with a solution in mind,” she said.
More debate is expected on the bill Thursday when it receives a third and final reading. It will then have to go back to the House for consideration.
In addition to the Cape Fear Skyway, Rabon’s amendment also sidelines the Mid-Currituck Bridge to the Outer Banks and the Garden Parkway near Charlotte.
Rabon’s amendment calls for increasing the Mobility Fund balance from $58 million to about $121 million by redirecting funds set aside for the Garden Parkway and Mid-Currituck Bridge projects. Danny McComas, chairman of the State Ports Authority and a former Republican state representative from New Hanover, said he fought to include the Cape Fear Skyway toll project in state statute in the late 2000s. McComas said the project would benefit the area by alleviating congestion on Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and opening a faster thoroughfare to the Port of Wilmington.
McComas also said he was confident Rabon must have an alternative plan for the Cape Fear Skyway.
“I’m sure he’s got something else, because he understands the dynamics that we’re up against,” McComas said.
Rabon said during floor debate that he did not intend to squash anyone’s plans.
“We’re not cramping anyone’s style,” he said. “We’re simply giving everyone a fair shake.”
But individuals familiar with the Department of Transportation’s prioritization process said the move could significantly delay or permanently derail the projects.
Rabon told the StarNews in June that these toll projects should “stand on their own merit” like other transportation Mobility Fund projects, which are ranked based on a cost-benefit analysis that takes into account travel-time savings and other factors.
Rabon said then that inclusion of the projects in the Mobility Fund would follow an executive order issued in 2009 by Gov. Beverly Perdue.
The order called for changes in the road-building process to ensure plans are developed and projects awarded based on “professional standards and not other considerations” and to make the best use of the state’s limited highway dollars.
Questions were raised last year about who owns properties along the proposed routes of the next three toll-road projects. Media reports from across the state have suggested that current and former local and state elected officials and their supporters stand to benefit financially if those projects are built, either through the sale of properties they own along or near the routes or improved access to their investments because of the roads.
Rabon said previously that is among the reasons he wants to take them out of state statute and force them to compete with other projects.
“To single out pet projects, if you will, to put them in a little, special category … just breeds political play,” Rabon said then.
Metro desk: 343-2389