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N.C.'s County Leaders Tackle Road Funding in Summit

Posted December 6, 2007

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— Counties will have to make up for an expected $65 billion shortfall in the state's transportation budget over the next 25 years.

But county commissioners meeting in Raleigh Thursday for a transportation summit expressed concern about where they would get the funding to build roads not covered in the state's budget.

"Between schools, sheriffs and human services, our budgets are strapped, as well," Wake County Commissioner Joe Bryan said.

"We do not want to be going to the public and asking to be using their tax dollars for transportation, which is a responsibility for the state of North Carolina," he added.

State law has limited counties from financing roads for nearly eight decades. It started with the Great Depression when they had no money and could not afford to build and maintain roads.

But a law passed earlier this year now allows counties to voluntarily participate in the finance and maintenance of roads.

"Circumstances have changed," Johanna Reese, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said. "This is something that DOT is looking at to use as a long-term tool in the toolbox."

The state has struggled to meet the demands for road funding because of limited funds, rising construction costs and unprecedented growth.

In a report issued last year, the DOT estimated a need for $122 billion over the next 25 years for road projects, but predicted there would be only $57 billion available under existing revenues.

That means a new challenge for many county leaders who insist they cannot afford to put road construction and maintenance into their budgets.

Rural county leaders said raising property taxes or other kind of taxes would not generate enough revenue to do so.

"I think it's going to hurt us drastically," Halifax County Commissioner J. Rieves "Judge" Manning Jr. said.

He said, for example, Halifax County might get $250,000 from a tax increase in a year, but the cost of a mile of roadway is about $1 million.

"It's going to be a nightmare, in my opinion," Manning said.

But many across the state said they might not have much of a choice.

Several county commissioners would like the General Assembly to pass new legislation that would allow local leaders to raise certain taxes and fees without having residents vote on the measures.

"I don't know where the money is going to come from unless we raise property taxes," Durham County Commissioner Becky Heron said, even though she thinks road construction is the state's responsibility.

"They should kind of look at their books and see where they can be a little more conservative," she said.

21 Comments

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  • hp277 Dec 7, 2007

    The "equity" formula is leaving urban areas high and dry while rural areas get loops, bypasses, and fancy bridges.

  • jeffthompson Dec 7, 2007

    hi i am wade.....you hit the nail on he head about I-485 here in Charlotte...it is a nightmare in South Charlotte (only 2 lanes)...other parts of the Outerloop are 3 & 4 lanes on each side.

    I-485 dead stops about 245pm and crawls about 5 mph till about 7pm...it is a nightmare that NCDOT has ignored for quite some time...and they announced recently that the money for the Charlotte Outerloop was gonna be cut to go to Fayetteville...no disrepect Fayetteville...but your traffic can not rival Charlotte...but that is the NCDOT for you.

  • fred08 Dec 7, 2007

    Do a little research on right-of-way litigation against the NCDOT. I think you will be stunned at the millions of dollars per year the public (jurors) are awarding to frivolous suits. The public should as be aware at the chicken-terd DOT attorneys that settle out of court for ungodly amounts of cash.

  • 68_polara Dec 7, 2007

    Two things:

    1. North Carolina taxes are higher than ever before.

    2. We have less miles of road per tax paying citizen than ever before.

    We need to demand that our legislatures refocus the budget on maintaining necessary infrastructure. If the responsibility is handed to the counties to maintain roads areas that have a good tax base will continue to thrive however those that don't will not maintain their roads properly which will stiffen their local economies even further. If you want to see this, check out areas in the rust belt like Pittsburgh for an example. Calling rural roads around Pittsburgh roads is a gross exaggeration.

  • I guess I will just type this Dec 7, 2007

    hey, how about finishing 540 (entire loop) w/o tolls, or toll it all? northern section drivers, your welcome, glad my money could pay for yours toll-free...

  • OpinionOnEverything Dec 7, 2007

    The law allowing counties to participate in building state-maintained roads should not have passed to begin with. This only made it easier for the state to raid the highway trust fund by providing an outlet for the counties that have given up trying to influence the equity formula. The slow-growth rural counties will just have an easier time diverting state funds that are needed in the high-growth urban counties.

    Nothing ever changes. Mark Basnight and Tony Rand will make sure of that...

  • whatelseisnew Dec 7, 2007

    A very large part of this problem is the ongoing robbery by Governor Easley and the legislature of the highway trust fund. We can fix this in 2008 by dumping the current legislature and replacing this Governor with some that will not continue the theft. No one from DOT should have any public suggestions on where the money comes from. Their job is to build and maintain the roads and make sure the politicians clearly understand the funding that is required. I don't believe they have done an adequate job. This state had 2 billion dollar surplus last year that could have been spent on roads and it was not. Whoever you intend to vote for as the next Governor, insist that they commit to no longer stealing from the highway trust fund. It does not solve the entire problem, but it is a start. After that, I would find the idea of raising taxes on vehicle fuels a lot more acceptable.

  • hp277 Dec 7, 2007

    Heavy trucks cause the vast majority of the damage to our roads, and should be paying their fair share of the maintenance costs. The state should at least raise the tax on diesel fuel so that trucks are paying for the damage they cause. Or maybe there should be a toll booth for trucks at each weigh station along the interstate.

  • fl2nc2ca2md2nc Dec 7, 2007

    C'mon, I thought everyone realized that they don't use the gasoline tax for roads any more. It's put into the general fund to "balance the budget". Until we demand accountability and/or vote these jokers out, expect more of the same...

  • hi_i_am_wade Dec 7, 2007

    The NCDOT is just inept. Other states can get city and rural projects done, not the NCDOT. Other states give fair funding to ALL cities, not the NCDOT. If you think Raleigh is being shafted, try driving I-485 in Charlotte during rush hour. The same I-485 that has 2 lanes when it opened only a few years ago. I was just in Charlotte and saw that problem firsthand. In other states, the problem and many others would have been fixed long ago.

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