Gas prices cracking down on Highway Patrol operations
The cost of gas to fuel Highway Patrol cars went up to $9 million in the last fiscal year. But the new state budget only includes $5.2 million to fill up the patrol's tanks.
The 1,820 troopers burn around 3.4 million gallons of gas driving more than 50 million miles around the state each year. Over the past two fiscal years, the cost of that gas has climbed from $6.5 million to around $9 million.
However, with the cost of a gallon of regular unleaded averaging over $4 in the state, legislators included $5.2 million for troopers' fuel costs in the new budget.
"It really ties our hands, because we want to do what we can to reduce crashes," said Lt. Everett Clendenin, spokesman for the Highway Patrol. "We want to do what we can to get these overweight trucks off the highways."
Daily patrols will not be affected for now, but the Highway Patrol will have to cut enforcement programs, such as those targeted at overweight trucks or drunk drivers, Clendenin said.
"One of the methods that have been very successful for us are the crackdowns," Clendenin said. "Now, we're having to cut these out, because we don't have the funding."
On the chopping block are operations like the Booze It & Loose It, which resulted in nearly 2,000 charges around the Fourth of July, and Operation Slowdown, a coordinated speeding crackdown in November 2007.
In other fuel-saving efforts, troopers have been instructed to idle their cars less and carpool to training exercises and ceremonies. The Highway Patrol will also cut back on equipment purchases.
Sen. Don East, R-Surry County, approved of those conservation measures, but said troopers need fuel in their tanks.
"They're not effective if they can't move around," East said. "We've got to provide for them."
Budget writers argued that the Highway Patrol, like other state agencies, needs to find ways stretch its fuel dollars.
"Perhaps the Highway Patrol won't be able to do some of the special projects, and I know it's a struggle for them," Sen. Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth County, said. "We need them to be on the highway to protect our citizens, but for the time being, we've got to be good stewards."