Published: March 14, 2013
By Bruce SiceloffThe_News_and_Observer
By Bruce Siceloff — email@example.com
RALEIGH — The southern leg of Wake County’s 540 Outer Loop could face more years of delay unless the state House goes along with a Senate proposal to kill three unrelated toll projects: two bridges on the coast and a road near Charlotte.
Both chambers have approved a House proposal that would allow the state Department of Transportation to move ahead on a stalled plan to extend the Outer Loop from Holly Springs to Interstate 40 near Garner, as part of the Triangle Expressway toll road.
It would repeal a 2011 law that barred DOT from considering the unpopular Red Route option, which would bulldoze parks and neighborhoods in Garner. Federal regulators say they will not consider the state’s preferred Orange Route, which would trample sensitive wetlands, unless the law is repealed to let DOT conduct full studies comparing both routes.
But before the Senate endorsed the Red Route legislation on March 7, it expanded the measure to effectively eliminate the Cape Fear Skyway in Wilmington, the Mid-Currituck Bridge in Currituck County and the Garden Parkway in Gaston and Mecklenburg counties.
The N.C. Turnpike Authority, now part of DOT, has been developing the three toll projects since they were authorized by the legislature in 2006.
The Senate version now is parked in the House Rules Committee while its original sponsors, two Wake County House members, figure out what to do. The House could agree with the Senate and kill the three toll projects, or the two chambers could appoint a conference committee in hope of finding a compromise they can agree on.
If the two chambers can’t agree, the Red Route legislation could die, preventing DOT from getting back to work on the next leg of TriEx.
“What we really need is just the Red Route bill enacted as we brought it forward (in the House), so we could move ahead on that issue,” said one of the sponsors, Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary. “Obviously, it’s a major policy piece that was added to this (in the Senate), and it sort of complicates the considerations.”
The $1 billion Cape Fear Skyway already was struggling under predictions that heavy state subsidies would be necessary to compensate for light toll collections. But DOT hoped to start construction in the next couple of years on the Currituck bridge and the Garden Parkway. Both starts have been delayed by environmental lawsuits and opposition from the Republican-led Senate.
Sen. Bill Rabon, a Southport Republican, persuaded the Senate to have the three projects compete for state funding with non-toll roads, based on the merits of their costs and benefits. Supporters have said that shift would make it unlikely that the projects would succeed.
Transportation Secretary Tony Tata did not comment directly on the TriEx legislation or the three projects targeted by Rabon.
“We support any efforts that further our use of our data-driven process for prioritizing projects,” Tata said Thursday by email.
The $650 million Currituck bridge is designed mainly for vacationers who now sit through long traffic jams on summer trips to the Currituck Outer Banks. Rabon has blasted it as a “cronyism” project pushed by former Democratic legislators.
But the Currituck County commissioners, seven Republicans, reject Rabon’s argument and plan to send a delegation to Raleigh next week to lobby for the bridge.
“I don’t think the Senate is aware of the magnitude and the impact of this bridge on all the northeastern counties,” said Paul R. Martin of Currituck, the commissioners’ vice chairman. He said he expected to find more support for the toll bridge among state House leaders.
Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/
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