Traffic

Leaders Say Road Repairs Burden Local Governments

Posted August 16, 2007 6:42 p.m. EDT
Updated August 16, 2007 9:56 p.m. EDT

— This year, lawmakers budgeted more than $3 billion for construction of new roads in North Carolina and $180 million for maintenance.

Triangle local leaders say, however, that the $25 million the state has allocated for repairs in the Triangle, as well as the $670 million for new roads, is not enough. The state puts too much of the road burden on local governments, they argue.

"There's no question that maintenance costs take away from building new roads," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said Thursday. "Anytime you're spending money on maintenance, that's money that's not available for new roads, particularly when the state's involved."

Meeker said most of Raleigh's recent roadwork is paid for by four voter-approved local bond issues.

Other municipalities also are having to provide their own funding. For example, the Town of Cary is paying the entire cost to widen Tryon Road.

Engineers in Cary said the town spends more money to fix state roads inside the town than the state pays to fix roads across Wake County.

The state Department of Transportation answers that building new highways and maintaining existing roads is a tough balancing act that all comes down to funding.

Meeker has a suggestion: "spending state transportation money more fairly."

"Urban areas, including Raleigh, simply don't get anywhere near their fair share of the state and federal gas taxes. That has got to be changed," Meeker said.

Officials say that most of the roadwork blocking motorists comes from fixing old roads, not building new ones.

"The roads haven't kept up with the population growth," said driver Maria Young. "And it is pretty frustrating when you're trying to get your kids to school, and you may allot 10 minutes, but you need another 10 minutes because you're stuck."

Some legislators, such as Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, are calling for a special General Assembly session in the fall to address many transportation funding issues. The Republicans say that includes getting Democrats to stop transferring $172 million annually from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund.

The DOT projects an estimated budget shortfall in the state's transportation spending will reach $65 billion over the next two decades. Gov. Mike Easel's budget contained no way to cover the funding shortfall.