Local News

Might Road-Building Be in Counties' Future?

Posted September 11, 2007
Updated September 12, 2007

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— Roads cost money. Money for roads is scarce. Tuesday, local officials heard about a new suggestion for a solution to the problem: county road-building.

Generally, it does not work that way. In North Carolina, municipalities build some roads within their boundaries, and the state handles everything else, which translates to 79,000 miles of state-built roadways.

Now, should counties get involved?

“It's now pretty clear that at least some folks in the Legislature seem to think that the system needs to evolve back to one where counties maintain more of the local road system – and, in fact, they just passed laws making that legal,” said Ed Johnson, executive director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

CAMPO comprises Wake County local governments and presents their prioritized list of road needs to state transportation planners and regulators.

Under the current state road funding formula, Wake County gives $200 million a year in road tax revenue to the state and gets back $140 million in road spending.

However, getting into the road business would come with a price for county taxpayers.

“Wake County has historically not been involved in transportation funding, so the issue before us is really: Is the county going to levy taxes on itself beyond what it's already doing?” Johnson said.

The recently opened section of road known officially as N.C. Highway 540 is probably the last section of new highway that Wake will see for the foreseeable future, based on state priorities and available funds.

Talk of extending 540 farther centers on making it a toll road, an idea that has been unpopular in some quarters, and talk about getting the county into the road-building business has skeptics, too.

“It's radical thinking at this point,” said County Commissioner Joe Bryan.

But, with a potential $6 billion road-funding shortfall for the county’s needs over the next 25 years, it may come to be seen as a less-radical notion.

“It's not unusual, really, across this whole country for counties to be involved in road building, so I think that does offer some potential,” Bryan said.

28 Comments

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  • mothermac Sep 13, 2007

    I hate our roads in Wake Co. All are in such bad shape you feel like you are riding on an unpaved road. The few roads in the area that are being repaired seem to be the that need it the least. Prioritizing? If county gov't can do a better job of that, go for it, but I personally think that Easley, Meeker and Tippett(DOT) should be held up for close scrutiny first. There is way too much money coming into this area for our infrastructure to be in such bad shape!!!

  • IdoNOTliveinDurham Sep 12, 2007

    We have been wait listed for ever getting our DIRT road paved in Durham County(this is a state maintained road supposedly). I see State trucks out here all the time paving the Orange County sides all around us and these are high end homes. Who is responsible or who can one call to petition. I mean my neighbors and I have been paying the taxes and I can see us having to pay off the county at some point.

  • TheWB Sep 12, 2007

    "Under the current state road funding formula, Wake County gives $200 million a year in road tax revenue to the state and gets back $140 million in road spending."

    Does this include do overs and boo boo fixes?

    Also, will the counties have the power to raid the Highway Fund like the state does?

  • YeahWhatever Sep 12, 2007

    Before everyone gets too excited about county roads, I suggest you spend time driving in the county areas of Virginia, Tennesse, Texas and others. What you will find are very narrow, barely paved roads and a heckuva lot more unpaved roads.

    NC owns the roads because they were taken over during the depression. That's why they "decided" to do it - counties couldn't keep up.

    Also, just to point this out: The Federal Government has NEVER built a mile of public roads that are outside of federal lands (national parks etc). The interstates were all built by the states with federal gas tax money collected by the states (which was then funneled to washington and returned minus a few pennies).

    Some folks seem to be under the mistaken impression that we spend much more than other states - we don't - not on a per capita basis when you include county roads in other sates.

  • patriotsrevenge Sep 12, 2007

    Here's an idea, let's empty out the Wake county jail and let the prisoners build us some roads. Let's start with the southern loop of I540, and forget that ridiculous notion of toll booths.

  • retired and luv it Sep 12, 2007

    They balance the budget by raiding the highway fund and then look around and say "gee whiz there's no money". Another case of irresponsible politicians spending other people's money with reckless abandon never thinking about saving; always tax and spend and waste.

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy Sep 12, 2007

    It use to be that way, then many years back the State decided they could do it better....they can't!! It's done that way in Georgia, Florida, Texas...and many other states, and it's a MUCH better solution! It's time NCDOT for a change!

  • Road-wearier Sep 12, 2007

    As noted, the politics based (vs power based) formula for distributing road funding plays a huge role in this mess. I mean, there's a fairly new four lane road that bypasses Murfreesboro. It might save five minutes on a drive thru town, and for not much through traffic. I'm not saying the good citizens of Murfreesboro don't deserve that, but extending 540 would benefit more people in one day than that bypass does in a year. That's not a very efficient use of money from a cost/benefit analysis.

    But, as long as the legislature is owned and operated by rural bigwigs like Basnight and friends, the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte will drown in traffic.

  • PaperReader Sep 12, 2007

    Hey WRAL, how about a story on the $60 million giveaway to Goodyear and Firestone???

    I said that would be a good test to see just how much corruption was still in the legislature. Looks like the answer is "right much"....

    Wonder how much it costs to get the legislature to vote you a big gift like that?

    P.S. I know this isn't related to the story, but if you think mismanagement of state revenue isn't at least a part of the problem with highway funding, then you've been living in a cave the last few years.

  • tarheel1980 Sep 12, 2007

    If the state is no longer responsible for road building, there should be a dramatic decrease in the state income tax rate that would put it more in line with other states. State road building has always been one of the excuses for our higher state income tax rate. It will be necessary for the state tax rate to go down to compensate for the much higher county property tax rates that will result.

    I am concerned on a change like this that the legislature will not lower the tax rate and will instead use this as an opportunity to spend more on their pet projects. For example, the legislature and governor had $4 billion in excess taxes available to them over the last several years. They considered this to be "found" money and proceeded to spend it like it was their own. With proper management, that would have been plenty of money to fix every bridge in the state. I have no confidence in our legislature or in this governor to do the right thing with our money.

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