Thursday, February 28, 2008

RALEIGH -- A new study calls for new taxes and better priorities to help a growing transportation crisis.

The NC Budget and Tax center released the report Thursday morning. It comes as a state panel continues to work on solutions as well.

DOT officials claim the state faces an estimated 65 billion dollar road funding shortfall over the next 25 years. A big chunk of money to pay for roads comes from a tax on gas but those funds are dwindling as cars become more fuel efficient. Wednesday's report pushes state leaders to find new money.

"What we have to do is move toward a system of revenue that actually taxes the mileage that we drive on this state's roads," Steve Jackson, who wrote the report, said.

Beau Mills agrees. He represents the state's largest cities at the legislature for the NC Metropolitan Coalition and NC Go.

"When you turn your spicket on and you get water out of it you pay for how much water you get out of it," Mills said. "Well we need to think of a way so when you drive on a road you pay for how much you use it."

But technology to make that happen is still a decade or more away. In the short term, Jackson wants the state to focus on easing congestion in urban areas. He believes current funding formulas pushes too much money in areas that don't have congestion.

"These are Rolls Royce facilities when all they really need is a Dodge," Jackson said.

The legislature makes the big decisions and funds transportation and there is a special committee called the 21st Century Transportation Commission that is looking at many of these issues, but Jackson feels the focus is a little fuzzy.

"The one consistent message out of the commission is send more money and to that we would say hang on just a minute why don't you fix what you got first before you start reaching for more money," Jackson added.

Timing is also an issue in finding solutions. The cost to build roads has risen as much as 80-percent in four years thanks to inflation and it's only getting worse.

That's a tough stat to swallow considering the state expects four million more people to move here by 2030.

The report also criticizes the state for ignoring public transportation needs. This study comes just months after a state paid consultant told DPT it lacked proper planning and direction.

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