Local News

Feds: Transportation Money Drying Up

Posted September 27, 2007 8:16 p.m. EDT
Updated September 28, 2007 12:33 p.m. EDT

— Federal officials sent a stern message when representatives from six Midwestern and Southeastern states, including North Carolina, asked for financing for a new highway: Don't count on the federal government to provide the transportation funding it has in years past.

The Federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to run short of funds by 2009, predicts the Congressional Budget Office. The trust is currently spending $4 billion more annually than the 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax brings in.

That imbalance will mean less money for transportation projects, including highways, in which the federal government has traditionally been involved. For example, federal funds paid for around 80 to 90 percent of the bill when Interstate 40 was designed and built and when it was widened.

Local planners, including the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, say they're well aware of the approaching problem, too.

"Going in, depending on a certain level of federal support is probably wishful thinking at this point," traffic planner Ed Johnson said. "We would be better off thinking about it from a standpoint of (how) we're gonna do this locally and regionally and with state assistance, hopefully."

The Triangle's Special Transit Advisory Commission met to discuss alternative means of reducing traffic congestion. Lack of federal support could put a strain on new bus routes and high-occupancy-vehicle lanes.

Transportation planners said commuter rail is a good way to take cars off of I-40, but decreasing federal help could knock a lot of rail plans off track. They said if the federal government reduces traffic funding, state and local taxes will probably go up.

"The transit side of it is they changed the rules to where probably hardly any city in the Sunbelt of the USA is ever gonna get funding to start a new transit line," Johnson said.

"I think we're going to have to get innovative in how we look at financing transportation improvements," Mark Ahrendsen, Durham transportation director, said. "I think we need to continue to look to the federal government as a partner in this process."