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Feds' rail money could slow down in NC House bill

Posted March 29, 2011 4:03 a.m. EDT
Updated March 29, 2011 5:31 a.m. EDT

— North Carolina's new slice of money from the federal government to improve Piedmont passenger train service could be pushed back under legislation being considered by state lawmakers.

The House Transportation Committee scheduled debate Tuesday on a measure that would bar the state Department of Transportation from accepting federal funds for a high-speed rail project without permission by the General Assembly.

The requirement could make it more difficult for state DOT to spend $461 million in federal grants announced last week to cut time between Raleigh and Charlotte by building new tracks and eliminating highway crossings.

Bill sponsor Rep. Ric Killian of Charlotte said he's worried the state will be left with a big annual bill to operate the service. At least three other states have rejected similar high-speed money.

Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, said she believes high-speed rail is needed, especially with commuters paying more to put gas in their vehicles.

"We have got to continue moving forward progressively with mass transit in this state," she said.

DOT spokeswoman Nicole Meister said the agency would seek bids for contracts for tracks, bridges and trains.

Some of the work has ready started, including renovation of several train stations on the route, Meister said. A third daily trip between Raleigh and Charlotte also has been added.

Unless Killian's bill passes, the project, which is expected to create nearly 5,000 jobs, should be completed by 2017.