Under the Dome

Dome: Tata backs Senate proposal that could kill 3 turnpike projects

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comcjarvis@newsobserver.comMarch 30, 2013 

Transportation Secretary Tony Tata has endorsed a Senate proposal that probably would kill three turnpike projects in Currituck, New Hanover and Gaston counties.

If the measure becomes law, the state Department of Transportation will find itself authorized to continue work on only two toll roads: the 19.7-mile Monroe Connector / Bypass east of Charlotte, and the Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension, which would extend the 540 Outer Loop across southern Wake County from Holly Springs to Interstate 40 near Garner.

State House leaders have not decided whether to go along with the Senate idea. The Senate added the provision three weeks ago, when it approved a House bill that began with a more limited scope.

The original bill would simply repeal a 2011 law that has blocked DOT from moving forward on the TriEx extension across southern Wake. The House and Senate and Tata all agree on this part. It would authorize the state to comply with demands by environmental regulators that DOT study the Red Route alternative that takes TriEx through Garner.

State leaders swear they’ll never build the Red Route, but regulators insist on a study to compare it with the environmentally problematic Orange Route south of Garner, favored by DOT.

The Red Route bill, sponsored by two Republican House members whose districts include southern Wake, appeared headed for easy passage. But its prospects became uncertain when the Senate added a proposal by Sen. Bill Rabon, a Brunswick County Republican. It would cancel the legislature’s authorization for N.C. DOT to continue work on the Mid-Currituck Bridge to the northern Outer Banks, the Cape Fear Skyway bridge and road at Wilmington, and the Garden Parkway west of Charlotte.

In a March 18 letter to leaders of both chambers, Tata echoed Rabon’s rationale for removing the legislature’s authorization for the three turnpike projects. They should, instead, compete for state funds with other highway projects in DOT’s data-driven prioritization process – based strictly on cost-benefit calculations and their objective, quantifiable merits.

Technically, this would not kill the three big toll projects. But it would subject them to stricter standards that the N.C. Turnpike Authority was designed to avoid.

The legislature established the Turnpike Authority, now part of DOT, almost a decade ago. It directed the authority to plan and build a half-dozen projects that would be financed mostly with toll collections. These were expensive roads and bridges that could not successfully compete with other demands for limited state highway funds.

Some of them had languished for decades without hope of state funding. TriEx would have been delayed for another decade if state and local leaders had not agreed to build it quickly as a toll road.

Tata’s letter came just as Gov. Pat McCrory was releasing his proposed budget, which includes continued state funding for the Currituck bridge and the Garden Parkway.

Rouzer will run in 2014

Former state Sen. David Rouzer told the Insider’s Patrick Gannon Thursday that he is running for Congress in 2014 in the 7th Congressional District.

The Johnston County Republican said he would make an official announcement early next week. Rouzer won the district’s GOP primary in 2012 but lost a close race in November to longtime U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-Lumberton, in a more conservative district after the recent redistricting process.

McIntyre won by 654 votes out of nearly 337,000 cast in the district, which includes all or parts of 12 Southeastern North Carolina counties. Rouzer represented Johnston and Wayne counties in the Senate from 2009-2012. McIntyre hasn’t announced his candidacy for re-election, but there are indications that he will seek a 10th term.

McIntyre is a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2013-14 Frontline program, an effort to help Democratic incumbents keep their seats. And McIntyre’s campaign in late January filed a “Statement of Candidacy” for 2014 with the Federal Election Commission. McIntyre couldn’t be reached Thursday through a spokesman.

Jonathan Barfield, a New Hanover County commissioner, has launched a campaign to capture the Democratic nomination. Rouzer said he knows of no other Republicans seeking the GOP nomination at this early stage.

He said he recently has been working at his business, R&C Distributors, which markets a degreaser called Cobra Clean, as well as spending time on his uncle’s farm. Ilario Pantano, the GOP’s 2010 nominee in the 7th District who lost to Rouzer in the 2012 primary, said Thursday he hadn’t ruled out a 2014 run but wasn’t planning on it.

Dome’s bill of the week

A pair of Republican lawmakers want to make it harder to get a divorce in North Carolina by making estranged couples wait longer and go to counseling.

The Healthy Marriage Act would extend to two years the current one-year waiting period in order for a divorce to be finalized. During that time, the couple would have to complete courses on improving their communications skills and conflict resolution.

If the couple has children, they would have to take at least a four-hour class on the impact of divorce on children.

Veteran Sen. Austin Allran of Hickory is the primary sponsor. Second-term Sen. Warren Daniel of Morganton has signed on as a sponsor of Senate Bill 518. Both are lawyers.

Under the bill, separated couples could resume living together during the two-year waiting period. Either the husband or the wife would have to have lived in North Carolina for six months before filing for divorce.

It would also strike from the current law a provision that says “isolated incidents of sexual intercourse” don’t count against the one-year waiting period. It’s not clear if that means an occasional fling with your estranged partner would count against you under the proposed law.

Staff writers Bruce Siceloff and Craig Jarvis, and Patrick Gannon of the Insider.

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