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Legislator proposes $50 hike in vehicle registration fee to improve roads

Rep. Robert Brawley
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Rep. Robert Brawley

A state legislator is proposing a $50 hike in North Carolina’s annual vehicle registration fee, which he said would generate $437 million a year to improve and expand roads and prevent tolls on Interstates 77 and 95.

“That $50 a year is money I’d rather see people keep,” State Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Mooresville said in a June 21 statement announcing his plan.

“However, compared to the options of not doing this, $50 a year will be a lot less than increased gas taxes or HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes that cost the public and truckers thousands of dollars a year.”

North Carolina’s annual license plate fee is $28 for private passenger vehicles and for private trucks under 4,000 pounds.

Brawley also proposes reducing state-mandated vehicle inspections from every year to every two years, which would save drivers an average $14 a year, he said.

In a phone interview from Raleigh on Monday, Brawley said he’d like to introduce the registration fee increase during state budget deliberations this week. But he said he recognizes that 2013-14 budget talks might be too far along to include his proposal.

“In reality, I’m probably not that hopeful of getting it done this year, unless the public comes out in strong opposition (to tolls),” Brawley said. “My goal is to raise the issue and get the pot stirred.”

Brawley said if he can’t get his proposal introduced this week, he’ll put it in a bill on the first day of the next legislative session, along with a bill preventing legislators from “raiding” the Highway Fund for uses other than roads.

This year, for instance, $2.8 million was taken from the fund for coastal dredging, Brawley said.

The state Department of Transportation intends to hire a contractor in August to finance, design, build and operate I-77 toll lanes from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2014, with some segments opening in 2016. The contract would be good for 50 years so the contractor could recoup the investment.

The project calls for adding two toll lanes on northbound and southbound I-77 between the Brookshire Freeway and Exit 28 in Cornelius. One toll lane would continue in each direction from Exit 28 to Exit 36 (N.C. 150).

State officials have said toll rates would vary depending on congestion and that no toll rate has been established. Brawley said HOT lane fees and taxes in other states range from 20 cents a mile to at least $1 a mile.

On May 22, the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization voted unanimously to amend the agency’s current and long-range transportation plans to include the $550 million project.

The agency prioritizes Charlotte-area road needs for the state.

Brawley said he considers revenue from toll lanes “a gamble, not a known quantity. We need to cover the cost of our roads with dependable revenue sources and not speculative toll projects.”

State highway officials have said the state doesn’t have the money to expand I-77 with taxpayer-funded general purpose lanes for at least 20 or 25 years.

Marusak: 704-987-3670; Twitter @ jmarusak.
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