North Carolina looks to solve road fund deficit

| Wednesday, October 11, 2006

In an effort to plug an estimated $65 billion hole in road funding, state transportation officials in North Carolina plan to ask state lawmakers for more money.

A draft report released this month said the state needs $122 billion during the next 25 years to repair state roads and cope with population growth. However, the state expects to have just $57 billion available from fuel taxes and other state and federal transportation revenues, The Associated Press reported.

The $65 billion shortfall is more than double the $29 billion estimated two years ago. Increases in the cost of concrete, steel and asphalt are blamed.

The gap is worrisome to Susan Coward, a deputy transportation secretary.

“We need to review options for how we are going to address this $65 billion gap,” Susan Coward told The AP.

House Transportation co-chairman Nelson Cole, D-Rockingham, said lawmakers in both parties are unlikely to be interested in increasing taxes or fees because of the politics involved.

“I don’t know if either party is ready to fall on the sword,” Cole said.

With that in mind, Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett said a fuel tax increase is unlikely. He also said toll roads can solve only a small portion of the funding problem.

Instead, Tippet told The AP he likes the test program used in Oregon to charge drivers by the mile instead of the gallon. Heavy trucks could be charged more because they cause more damage to roads, he said.

Another scenario to help fill the funding void for roads was offered by Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. Berger said the state should stop sending road money to the general fund and consider different options to pay for buses and other mass-transit projects.

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