Lawmakers want details on federal rail money
By Karissa Minn
State legislators representing Rowan County are co-sponsoring a bill that could block the county from getting more than $100 million for high-speed rail projects.
The money is part of $545 million in federal stimulus funding awarded to North Carolina in January 2010 to help create an envisioned high-speed rail corridor from Charlotte to Washington.
State transportation officials announced Tuesday that an agreement with Norfolk Southern, N.C. Railroad and Amtrak will allow them to obtain $461 million of these funds.
N.C. Reps. Fred Steen and Harry Warren are both listed as co-sponsors of a bill that would prohibit the transportation department from accepting federal funds for high-speed rail without General Assembly authorization.
The billís short title is ěNo High-Speed Rail Money From Federal Govít,î but Steen said the money wonít necessarily be turned down if the bill passes. The goal is for the North Carolina Department of Transportation to give legislators more information before accepting the funds, he said.
ěThey were not being straightforward with us, and they need to give us some answers,î Steen said.
He said questions being raised include the exact projects funded, the amount of future funding needed for maintenance and where that money would come from.
The transportation department is answering some of those questions now, he said, as a result of the bill being filed. According to recent testimony to the transportation committee, $50 million in maintenance costs will come out of the stateís highway fund. ěWhy should we take $50 million out of the highway fund when we canít get road projects weíve been asking for for 20 years?î Steen said.
The high-speed rail projects might be good for the county, he said, but funding for them should come out of the general fund or public safety.
Steen also said he is concerned about businesses and residents that would have to relocate in southern Rowan County. He wants to know how many will be forced to move and how much they will be paid.
Warren said he is wary of accepting federal money that could come with conditions and leave the state responsible for maintenance costs. Those arenít obligations the state needs to take on in this economy, he said.
ěIn terms of long-term planning as the state continues to grow, as a method to curtail automobile traffic, it would be an excellent asset to have,î Warren said. ěRight now, itís not something thatís a critical need, and we canít afford to plan that far ahead.î
Both Steen and Warren said the fate of the high-speed rail money has not been decided.
Warren said rail projects could bring jobs and investment to the local economy, and Steen acknowledged that leaving money in the highway fund doesnít guarantee anything for Rowan County.
N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock said he has not read the House bill, but he wants questions answered about high-speed rail efficiency and funding before he would vote on it. No counterpart legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
He said state and federal funds would be better spent on the interstate system.
ěIf we could put an exit on Old Beatty Ford Road, I think that would be more helpful to Rowan County,î Brock said. ěGive us more lanes going north and south through southern Rowan County. … If you give us money for that, weíll give you economic development at a song, without a lot of upkeep.î
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Rep. Fred Steen
Mailing address: NC House of Representatives, 300 N. Salisbury St., Room 305 Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
Rep. Harry Warren
Mailing address: NC House of Representatives, 300 N. Salisbury St., Room 533 Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
Sen. Andrew Brock
Mailing address: NC Senate, 300 N. Salisbury St, Room 623 Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
Rep. Jeff Barnhart
Mailing address: NC House of Representatives, 300 N. Salisbury St., Room 304 Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
Sen. Fletcher Hartsell
Mailing address: NC Senate, 300 N. Salisbury St., Room 300-C Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
Rep. Linda Johnson
Mailing address: NC House of Representatives, 300 N. Salisbury St., Room 301-D Raleigh, NC 27603-5925