Local Politics

State looks to shift road maintenance to cities

Posted April 20, 2009 5:47 p.m. EDT
Updated April 20, 2009 7:08 p.m. EDT

— State officials are trying to free themselves of billions of dollars in road maintenance projects by shifting the burden to cities and counties across North Carolina.

Three bills pending in the General Assembly would make cities and counties responsible for maintaining thousands of miles of roads now handled by the state Department of Transportation.

"Most cities, frankly, do a better job of maintaining their local city streets than we do," said Calvin Leggett, manager of program development for the DOT. "Things like neighborhood streets (and) cul-de-sacs, we don't spend a lot of money maintaining those, but it does divert our focus from the arterial routes and highways we need to be maintaining."

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, who co-sponsored Senate Bill 758, said the effort isn't a way to trim state spending in the face of a projected $3 billion budget deficit. Rather, he said, it's a way to even the playing field between state and local government.

"It would allow the state to focus on bigger projects," Rucho said, citing interstates and urban loop highways.

Wake County spokeswoman Sarah Williamson said the county doesn't even have a public works department to handle road maintenance if it had to assume responsibility for area roads from the state.

Together with Senate Bill 1001 and House Bill 881, Rucho's bill would add 180 miles of roadway to the 997 miles already maintained by Raleigh street crews. Mayor Charles Meeker said he doesn't like the added responsibility without any guarantee of extra state money to help pay for paving and pothole repair.

"Cities and counties across North Carolina are concerned that these thoroughfares will be transferred to them without funds for maintenance," Meeker said. "The city does not have extra money any more than another city or county across the state does. If this responsibility is passed on without adequate funds, that would be a major problem for us."

The Raleigh City Council is expected to vote on a resolution Tuesday to oppose the bills. 

Proponents of the change said the current road-maintenance system puts too much pressure on the state and needs to be fixed.

"It's a case where everyone's having budget complaints – the city's having shortfalls, (and) we're having shortfalls. There's really not enough money for anyone to do what they would like to do," Leggett said.

"We're collapsing on top of ourselves," Rucho said. "Doing nothing is not an option."