Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bridge Funding gets eliminated in "Proposed" Budget from Senate Appropriations Committee

While not official, the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge gap funding from the State has been eliminated in the recent budget proposal in Raleigh. Below is an article from the Daily Advance on the matter.

Senate budget closes MOA, ends bridge project

By Reggie Ponder and Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More The $19.4 billion budget proposal unveiled by the North Carolina Senate Tuesday calls for closing the Museum of the Albemarle and ending development of the long-awaited Mid-Currituck Bridge.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Report on the Continuation, Expansion and Capital Budgets, posted Tuesday on the official website of the N.C. General Assembly, lists as item 58 on page J-19 “close Museum of the Albemarle.” The item goes on to specify that it “closes the Museum of the Albemarle and eliminates salaries and benefits of 15 filled positions.”

The cut is estimated to save nearly $959,000, according to the committee report.

Museum of the Albemarle Director Ed Merrell noted Tuesday afternoon that the state budget is far from final.

“This is a draft budget proposal in the Senate,” he said, pointing out the museum closing was not included in the budget passed by the House of Representatives.

“It’s still got a lot of steps to go through,” Merrell said. “Our position is that we have a museum to operate and we’re going to keep on operating it until somebody tells us to stop.”

Merrell said he got a call Tuesday morning from his supervisor at the Department of Cultural Resources letting him know that the closure was listed in the Senate budget proposal.

He said he and the rest of the Museum of the Albemarle staff believe the museum serves an important role in the community.

“It is important,” Merrell said. “It’s an important asset to the community, the county, to the region as a whole, and in some respects to the state as a whole.”

He mentioned the work the museum does with school systems in the region and its involvement in the Civil War Sesquicentennial, which is expected to bring many visitors to the state.

“We feel very strongly that we are an important asset to the community as a museum and as a tourist draw,” he said.

Merrell said the museum staff hears positive comments about the museum from visitors and people in the community.

According to The Associated Press, the proposed Senate budget also ends development of at least two major road projects: the $900 million proposed Garden Parkway connecting western Gaston County over the Catawba River to the Charlotte airport; and the $600 million Mid-Currituck Bridge. The plan also shifts $50 million in “gap funding” for road projects to purchasing school buses and constructing urban loops.

Like Merrell, Currituck Commissioner Owen Etheridge cautioned that the Senate plan unveiled Tuesday won’t be the state’s final spending plan.

Etheridge, who was in Raleigh Tuesday, said budget negotiations have just begun in the Senate, and he is “cautiously optimistic” that the mid-county bridge will be reinstated during deliberations.

“This is when the real negotiations come into play,” Etheridge said, noting that much debate is still ahead on the spending plan.

Commissioner Paul O’Neal agreed.

“It’s not the end until the final budget is voted on,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal said the votes of state Reps. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, and Tim Spear, D-Washington, may be key in securing funding for the $600 million bridge project.

Both House members’ votes are needed by the Republican majority to veto-proof the final budget, and the mid-county bridge could be part of the bargain in securing those votes, O’Neal said.

“We are still pretty confident that Bill and Tim will be able to keep it alive when it goes to conference because it’s in the House budget,” said O’Neal.

Last year, the General Assembly earmarked “gap funding” for the project that would be used to subsidize construction costs so that tolls are not too high. The budget plan called for the state to provide $15 million a year in gap funds for the first three years of the project and $28 million after that for up to 50 years.

Under the proposed 2012 House budget, the gap funds are still earmarked but payment could be delayed a year. Earlier this year, a spokesman for the N.C. Turnpike Authority estimated that a delay in funding could push back the project’s proposed 2016 completion date by a year or two.

The proposed Senate budget redirects those gap funds to other projects.

State Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, whose district also includes Pasquotank and Currituck counties, could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The Turnpike Authority was set to release its Final Environmental Impact Statement this summer for the 7-mile span connecting Currituck’s mainland to the Outer Banks. Plans for financing the state’s first public-private venture have been ongoing.

The state has been negotiating a contract with private company ACS Dragados to construct and help finance the $660 million project