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House lets state collect tolls for new lanes on 95, elsewhere

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the House agreed to let the state collect tolls to help pay for the addition of new lanes on I-95 and other interstate highways -- but only if drivers retain the option to drive toll-free in the old lanes.

Eastern North Carolina political leaders and residents of the eight I-95 counties have opposed a state Department of Transportation proposal to collect tolls on both new and old lanes to finance a $4.4 billion widening and overhaul for I-95.

The aging interstate would be expanded from four to eight lanes on the busiest 50 miles between I-40 in Johnston County and St. Pauls in Robeson County, and six lanes on the remainder of its 182 miles between the South Carolina and Virginia borders. Under the original proposal, drivers would begin paying tolls in all lanes before the project is finished.

Sing along with Tift and Bruce: What's up with transportation bills?

Bruce Siceloff, The N&O's transportation reporter, brings us up to speed on key legislation on our highways and byways in his Crosstown Traffic blog. He's in a musical mood today:

Raleigh's Tift Merritt has a lovely song that comes to mind on the General Assembly's frantic "Crossover Day." Any bill that didn't clear one chamber by the end of the day Thursday was eliminated from consideration by the other chamber.

In a weary voice, Merritt sings:

I don't want to talk to nobody,

Don't want to make no plans,

I'm so tired of this party,

I've had all my laughs.

I'll send you something when I cross over,

Something when I cross over.

Check out Bruce's rundown on where transportation bills stand.

Morning Memo: Emails show Tata's troubles as former Wake education chief

TATA'S TUMULTOUS TENURE AS SCHOOLS CHIEF REVEALED: Newly released email shows that former Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata -- and now state Transportation Secretary -- spent his final month in office surrounded by growing distress and concern from school board members and parents over his handling of the school bus problems and student assignment. More than 3,400 pages of email released this week as part of a public records request by news media organizations, including The News & Observer, show how much the bus fiasco affecting thousands of families was a daily concern during the first month of school. (More on this story below.)

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: A bill to limit local governments from requiring inspections of homes in some instances -- a measure that is opposed by environmental groups -- is on the House calendar. The House will also consider legislation to make it a felony for a parent to fail to report a missing child, dubbed Caylee's Law after the Caylee Anthony case, in which the 2-year-old was found dead and her mother didn't report her missing for a month. At 10 a.m., Senate committee will consider (for discussion only) a midwife bill and a measure to put teeth in the state's public records law. On the Senate floor later in the day, the "red route" bill gets a final vote with toll road language attached. Gov. Pat McCrory is making an economic development announcement in Raleigh at 1 p.m.

***Good morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Click below more more North Carolina political news and analysis. Send tips and news to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Transportation secretary apologizes for toll road double-billing

More than 800 drivers are receiving toll-road refunds and profuse apologies from the state Department of Transportation – by telephone and by mail – because they were double-billed for trips on the Triangle Expressway.

“It was completely avoidable,” Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said Thursday at a state Board of Transportation meeting. “It’s our fault. And we are fixing the problem, and your account is going to be credited. So we accept full responsibility for this.” Read more here.

Morning Roundup: McCrory-Dalton debate likely to get overshadowed

North Carolina’s major candidates for governor will hold the first of three statewide televised debates Wednesday, in a match-up that could be overshadowed – like much of their campaign – by the presidential contest.

The debate, sponsored by the N.C. Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation, was designed to piggyback on interest in the presidential debate. But not everyone is convinced that the governor’s debate will benefit from the pairing. Read more here.

More political headlines:

--Five weeks before Election Day, about 14,000 North Carolina voters already have cast absentee ballots – a total equal to President Barack Obama’s margin of victory in 2008. The number is etched into the minds of conservatives who are placing a greater emphasis than ever this year on absentee voting by mail, suggesting it could make the difference in another tight election contest.

Joyner floated for DOT secretary

The state's turnpike czar has been floated as a transportation secretary.

David W. Joyner is a longtime transportation expert who has led the ongoing push for toll roads here as the first director of the N.C. Turnpike Authority.

His name has recently been suggested as a possible contender for head of the N.C. Department of Transportation under Gov.-elect Beverly Perdue.

The son of a state highway commissioner of the same name from the 1960s, Joyner was an assistant to the U.S. transportation secretary and later vice president of state government affairs for Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm.

In 1994, he moved to Raleigh and founded State Capitol Strategies, a 50-state legislative bill tracking company later sold to the Washington Post. He later worked for Womble Carlyle.

A native of Rocky Mount, he has known Gov. Mike Easley since kindergarten and roomed with him for three years at UNC-Chapel Hill. He later worked as a major fundraiser for the governor.

Since 2005, Joyner has headed the turnpike effort, a job that has given him a lot of contact with the state DOT yet still positions him as a plausible outsider to the troubled agency.

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