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State Road Money Shrinking as Congestion Increases

The state's transportation budget is shrinking, even as congestion and repair needs worsen, according to a transportation advisory group.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state Legislature budgeted less money for transportation projects in 2007, despite a study by UNC-Charlotte researchers that ranks the state's traffic congestion among the country's 10 worst.

NC Go!, a statewide transportation advisory group, studied the budget passed by the 2007 General Assembly. The group pointed out several cuts:

  • a $6.5 million decrease for new road construction
  • a $41 million reduction in urban maintenance funds
  • a $170 million transfer from the state's Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund

The Department of Transportation projects a $65 billion shortfall in the state's transportation budget over the next 20 years. The 2007 budget signed by Gov. Mike Easley contained no steps to cover the funding gap.

"We have less money available for new construction. That's going backwards," Beau Mills, chairman of NC Go!, said. "We're really concerned about that."

The cuts eventually pass the bill for road work down the line to local governments, municipal leaders said.

In 2006, Cary spent $23 million to work on state-owned roads in the town – a sum that Cary engineers said is greater than the state paid to fix roads across Wake County.

Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said that state promises for road funding are a decade late. His community cannot pay for road in work in the range that Cary has and must wait for the state to act, Williams said.

Lawmakers are considering holding a special General Assembly session in the fall to discuss transportation funding, but some legislators have said that wouldn't be the most effective way to deal with the issue.

"There's no sense in bringing back 170 legislators to discuss something in a hodge-podge manner," Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said. "Go ahead and have the transportation committees from the House and Senate come back and discuss what our needs are."

Easley has called for a study group to examine the state's road needs.

The Legislature is mulling multiple options to cover the long-term gap in the transportation budget, including building toll roads, creating local tax districts and raising vehicle-registration and highway-use fees.

Lawmakers are also considering raising the state's gas tax. North Carolina currently has the fifth-highest state gas tax in the country.

Beyond a special session in the fall, the next opportunity for the Legislature to address transportation funding will be during the short session to be held in May 2008.