North Carolina may rely on user fees to close transportation funding gap

| 11/21/2008

North Carolina could someday rely less on revenue from fuel taxes and more on direct user fees such as tolls or taxes on vehicle miles traveled, according to members of an appointed transportation panel.

The 21st Century Transportation Committee, a 24-member panel of elected and appointed officials created by state House and Senate leaders, has been meeting monthly to prepare recommendations to the North Carolina General Assembly.

Floating to the top during the ongoing discussion are proposals for tolling Interstate 95 and other roads; building new toll roads; replacing the fuel tax with a tax on vehicle miles traveled; and transferring a number of roads and bridges to counties and municipalities.

One member of the committee, state Rep. Nelson Cole, D-Rockingham, said some of the ideas are premature and may not make it through the General Assembly in 2009. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol in Raleigh in January.

“Everything out there should have some component of user fee attached to it,” Cole told Land Line Magazine on Friday, Nov. 21.

“Our budget shortfall right now is going to require that we look under every rock and turn over every rock and look in additional caves to balance our budget.”

Cole said some committee members would like to see state fuel taxes replaced with a tax on vehicle miles traveled, or VMT. Cole believes the VMT tax is still at least a few years away.

“VMT is currently being studied in 23 states, but that’s not a reality for us in the next two years,” he said.

Tolling, another direct user fee, is also being discussed.

The General Assembly previously approved legislation for a limited number of new roadways to be constructed as toll roads, but construction has yet to begin on the state’s first toll road.

In recent years, the federal government has identified Interstate 95 as a “corridor of the future” which places the interstate high on the list for tolling authority.

North Caroline is a member of the I-95 Corridor Coalition from Florida to Maine that is pushing to widen and improve the interstate corridor, especially in major urban areas.

The committee may also recommend tolls on Interstate 77.

The 21st Century Transportation Committee hopes to publish official recommendations in December to present to the state House Transportation Committee in January.

– By David Tanner, staff writer