Mid-county bridge funds axed
By Cindy Beamon
Staff writer Daily Advance
Friday, June 11, 2010

The state House’s proposed budget leaves out funding for a mid-county bridge in Currituck, but the move is likely to be challenged as the General Assembly negotiates its final spending plan in the coming weeks.

The state House of Representatives has approved a budget plan that would remove $15 million for the bridge, using the funds instead to improve urban traffic congestion problems. Sen. Marc Basnight, president pro tem in the Senate, said the funds are critical to the project and need to be put back.

“The bridge is important. It’s been proposed and supported for many, many years,” Basnight said Friday in a telephone interview. He said he will oppose the provision as the Senate and House work together to finalize a budget for the next fiscal year.

“We are in the environmental phase and location phase of the project. We are closer than we have ever been before and to remove any apportionment of the funding would raise the toll.”

Basnight said the removal of funds could also affect financing for the project.

In 2008, the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $15 million per year as “gap funds” to offset construction debt not covered by toll revenue. Funds for the first installment were earmarked in 2009, but were not spent in last year’s budget. Without the gap funds, tolls would be much higher, possibly too high to make the project practical. “We put the money in there to make the project viable,” Basnight said.

Redirecting the $15 million away from the bridge project would cause tolls, already estimated to cost between $6 to $12 one-way, to go even higher, said Basnight.

Basnight he was unaware of the House’s plans to redirect funding for the project until last week when House legislators finalized their proposed budget package. The House budget reallocates the earmarked funds for the bridge and other Turnpike Authority projects, a total of $39 million, into a “mobility fund” for next year’s budget.

House Rep. Bill Owens D-N.C., could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The funds for the bridge remain intact in the Senate’s version of the budget.

The withdrawal of funds could have far-reaching effects on financing for the project. The state plans to pay for the project through a Public-Private Partnership, using a combination of bonds, tolls, federal loans and private financing to pay for construction. If the state withdraws funding, private investors may back out as well, Schorr Johnson, spokesman for Basnight, said in an earlier interview.