News: CJ Exclusives

Dole, Burr Like Transportation Bill

They say it increases return on tax dollars for NC taxpayers

Critics of pork-barrel spending came down hard on Congress’s passage last week of a $286.4 billion transportation spending bill, but U. S. Senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr — both Republicans — voiced their approval of what the legislation would do for North Carolina.

The state is expected to receive nearly $5.1 billion in highway funding and more than $413 million for public transportation projects, according to an announcement made by Dole’s office on Friday. North Carolina will receive 92 cents back for every dollar its taxpayers pay into the federal Highway Trust Fund, which Burr said is an improvement from 90.5 percent in the last transportation-spending bill that was passed.

“I am particularly pleased that this bill increases North Carolina’s return for each dollar the state puts into the highway trust fund,” Dole said in a press release. “This will translate into tens of millions of dollars more each year for the next five years for transportation construction in North Carolina.”

However, Washington, D.C. watchdog groups like Citizens Against Government Waste held lawmakers in contempt over what they said was out-of-control federal spending.

“The highway bill is a fiscal car wreck,” said Tom Schatz, president of CAGW. “The sweet smell of pork has blinded members of Congress to the waste and inefficiency of federal transportation policy.”

The group, along with Washington-based Taxpayers for Common Sense, singled out for ridicule a $230-million bridge in Alaska formerly known as the “Bridge to Nowhere.” It connected the mainland with Gravina Island, which has a population of 50. It has been renamed “Don Young’s Way,” for the state’s congressman.

Among projects for North Carolina, CAGW highlighted a $1.6 million earmark to “construct bicycle and pedestrian trains” in Durham, and another $1.6 million for completion of the American Tobacco Trail in Durham and Chatham counties, as needless spending.

“This bill is just the latest in last minute pieces of pork-laden legislation that Congress has passed before summer recess,” Schatz said. “As members of Congress pack their pork-laden bags and head out on vacation, taxpayers are left with a $333 million budget deficit.”

Among other North Carolina projects listed on Dole’s website were:

* Little Sugar Creek Greenway expansion and construction (Charlotte), $3.155 million

* Piedmont Triad Research Park transportation improvements (Winston-Salem), $6.9 million

* Interstate 40 – Union Cross Interchange (Forsyth County, where Dell is building its assembly plant), $800,000

* US 74 Bypass extension (Monroe), $14 million

* Widen and improve Interstate 85 (Cabarrus County), $6.4 million

* Construction of Interstate 74 between Interstate 40 and US 220 (High Point), $10 million

* Pedestrian bike paths development (Cary), $1.6 million

* Neuse River Trail construction (Johnston County), $1.6 million

* Downtown Redevelopment Project (Rocky Mount), $5.068 million

* Greenways expansion and improvement project (Greenville), $1 million

* Feasibility study of constructing a mid-Currituck Sound bridge, $2 million

* Rails to Trails Project (Elizabeth City), $512,000

* Pack Square Pedestrian and Roadway Improvements (Asheville), $4.54 million

“These transportation projects are vital to our state’s infrastructure and good examples of the federal, state, and local government working in partnership,” Burr said in a press release.

Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal. Contact him at [email protected].