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Cities picking up bigger piece of NC road construction tab

Posted November 14, 2012 7:27 p.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2012 7:35 p.m. EST

— With state funding for road construction and maintenance flagging, cities across North Carolina are finding themselves paying for more projects on state roads.

A recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers and TRIP, a nonprofit transportation advocacy group, found that 54 percent of North Carolina's urban highways are congested and 44 percent of major urban roads are in mediocre or poor condition.

But the North Carolina Department of Transportation faces a $60 billion gap between road needs and revenue over the next 30 years, so the agency plans to focus its limited funds on interstates and U.S. highways.

"We'd love to fund every project that local government proposes in North Carolina, but the needs far outweigh the revenue and resources," said Jim Trogden, DOT chief operating officer.

Morrisville officials said they couldn't wait for DOT to get around to spending an estimated $50 million to upgrade N.C. Highway 54 through the town, so they turned to local taxpayers, who last week approved a $14.5 million bond for road improvements.

Town Manager John Whitson said $2.5 million of the bond money will be used to build a two-lane road connecting McCrimmon Parkway and Evans Road, which planners expect to alleviate some of the congestion on N.C. 54.

"The voters spoke through the bond effort that they're tired of waiting. They're asking for improvements. This one we felt we could afford," Whitson said, noting the bond issue will cost the average Morrisville homeowner $120 a year.

Morrisville really needs a four-lane connector, he said, adding that town officials hope that DOT will eventually widen the road, which they have dubbed locally as the N.C. 54 Bypass.

In Raleigh, 33 of 45 road projects paid by local bonds over the past 25 years have been on state roads, including widening Falls of Neuse Road, Tryon Road, Rock Quarry Road and Perry Creek Road.

Local and state leaders gathered for a transportation summit in Raleigh Wednesday to discuss the long-term challenges for North Carolina. Experts agreed that current funding is insufficient and not sustainable, primarily because more efficient vehicles mean less revenue from the state gas tax.

Transportation leaders said the state needs a new vision and funding strategy, which is a campaign issue for Gov.-elect Pat McCrory.