Local Politics

Dole, Hagan outline different transportation priorities

Posted September 12, 2008 6:42 p.m. EDT

— Both candidates for U.S. Senate say transportation is a priority, but they drew sharp distinctions Friday while campaigning in Raleigh as to where federal transportation money should go.

With people buying less gas because of higher prices and fuel-efficient cars, the government is taking in less gas tax revenue than expected. As a result, the federal Highway Trust Fund, the account that helps pay for road and bridge construction projects, is running on fumes.

This week, Congress passed an $8 billion transfer from the U.S. Treasury to refuel the fund.

Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole supported the transfer.

"It was very important, and this was a bipartisan issue. Not one person in the Senate was against doing this," Dole said.

Dole's Democratic challenger, Kay Hagan, questioned the move.

"That $8 billion is adding another $8 billion to a $450 billion deficit this year," Hagan said, adding that she would have to "see what else was in that package" before she would cast her support or opposition to the transfer.

"I don't know if she just wanted to let (the Highway Trust Fund) go bankrupt, but that's just not feasible," Dole said.

North Carolina's share of the transfer is around $300 million – roughly 25 percent of the state Department of Transportation's construction budget.

With heavy congestion on the highways and high prices at the pump, Charlotte's light rail system, paid in part with federal dollars, has surpassed projected ridership.

"I think public transportation – light rail transit – is definitely the way we need to be going," Hagan said.

Dole said she believes the federal government should look at each transit plan on a case-by-case basis for funding.

"(We need to see if) it meets the ridership concerns and the financial concerns and all the other qualifications," she said.