Formula change could bring more road money to Triangle

Posted February 25, 2011 7:20 p.m. EST

— State lawmakers are again taking up the idea of changing how money is divvied up for road projects across North Carolina and giving more to areas with congested highways.

Republican budget writers say the state hasn't properly funded road and bridge maintenance over the years, and they want to spend at least $100 million more on keeping existing infrastructure in good order and less on new roads, according to an outline presented Wednesday to House and Senate transportation subcommittees.

The lawmakers also want to take a look at where the funds are coming from and where they're spent, saying the Highway Trust Fund's equity formula is outdated and in need of an overhaul.

"I've called it the 'inequitable fund.' I think it deserves now a look to see if this is the best way to distribute highway dollars in North Carolina," said state Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake.

The formula splits the $7.3 billion in the seven-year Transportation Improvement Program. Half of the money collected through gas taxes and vehicle fees is distributed according to the population of a region. Another 25 percent is based on the number of miles of state highways left to complete in the region, and the remaining 25 percent is distributed evenly throughout the state.

"The dollars (should) go where the needs are," Stevens said.

Transportation advocates say the fund was visionary when it was created more than 20 years ago, but it needs to change with the times.

"No one had any idea this state would become the ninth most populous state in the nation," said Christie Barbee, treasurer of NCGo!, a group of business and industry representatives who advocate for improved transportation systems statewide.

The issue will likely cut across party lines and pit urban lawmakers against their rural colleagues.

"If I'm from a very rural area, I'm going to fight back if you're going to try to take my money," Barbee said.

A change to the funding formula would likely mean more transportation dollars for the Triangle to handle projects like the widening of a 6-mile stretch of Interstate 40 between Raleigh and Cary.

"We have more congestion here, as do other urban areas," Stevens said. "You put the money where the problems are, in my opinion."