Local News

Might Road-Building Be in Counties' Future?

Posted September 11, 2007 7:58 p.m. EDT
Updated September 12, 2007 8:38 a.m. EDT

— 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.