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State Representative Proposes Funding Solution for Roads

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*Written by Kurt Naas of WidenI77.org.

With North Carolina’s toll lane scheme coming under increasing fire, some elected leaders have recently taken to demanding alternative funding options.  As we’ve pointed out previously, bloated toll lane projects like the proposed I-77 HOT lanes are not the solution, and no toll lane in a metropolitan area less than 2.5 million has even covered its operating costs.

Yet, in defiance of history and fiscal gravity, some elected leaders continue to push this financially irresponsible scheme.  So it’s especially refreshing- and heartening- when a state-level representative rises up and proposes a solution rather than demanding one from his constituents.  Earlier today, Rep Robert Brawley (Robert.Brawley@ncleg.net) made such an announcement:

Representative C. Robert Brawley, North Carolina House of Representatives
June 21, 2013

A Better Option Than Toll Lanes

During this session the General Assembly has addressed a number of pivotal issues for North Carolina. One of the very critical and controversial issues that I have spoken out about is the NCDOT’s plans to contract with private tolling companies to use HOT lanes on our existing highways. HOT lanes are toll lanes that are built and operated under 50-plus year contracts with private, for-profit tolling companies. Drivers are charged to use the lanes and will receive a bill each month. The fees have no cap as to how high they can go. Currently, HOT lane fees/taxes in other states range from .20 to $1.00 a mile or more.

Overwhelmingly, citizens are opposed to toll lanes – and for good reason. The cost to use them is unaffordable for most people. And they do not reduce congestion, but instead they actually increase traffic since HOT lanes take over existing HOV lanes. Furthermore, HOT lanes are known to push drivers off of the highways and onto neighborhood roads. I and many others are also concerned about the state being put in a position to buy-out private tolling companies when and if projects fail for a variety of reasons.

Obviously the State of North Carolina has a road funding shortfall as a result of gas tax funds for many years being diverted for other uses besides roads. To make up for this shortfall, we’ve been told that there is no other option but to accept HOT lanes. I believe we do have another option and one that will not cost drivers and truckers of I-95, I-40, I-85, I-77, 485 and Highway 74 thousands of dollars a year in tolls. This solution will not drive up the price of goods because of increased trucking costs. It will not force drivers into more traffic. And, it will not put the state at the risk of a buy-out of a tolling company. Doing something now rather than after I-77 is tolled helps all of us. After I-77 is tolled, we will pay a toll plus added taxes.

What I propose for addressing the shortfall and reducing overall and long-term expenses for the people of North Carolina is a threefold plan. First, we reduce inspections to every two years instead of every year. That would save drivers on average $14 dollars a year. Second, we make up for the road funding shortfall for road projects throughout the state by raising the annual registration fee by $50 per vehicle. And three, by better managing our road funds and eliminating wasteful spending together with the Governor’s strategic transportation plan, we should be able to meet our transportation needs.

That $50 dollars a year is money I’d rather see people keep. However, compared to the options of not doing this, $50 a year will be a lot less than increased gas taxes or HOT lanes that cost the public and truckers thousands of dollars a year. An increase of $50 per year for each vehicle registration multiplied by the 8,740,023 vehicles registered in North Carolina today would generate approximately $437 million dollars a year for our road needs.

Revenues from toll lanes and roads are a gamble; not a known quantity. We need to cover the cost of our roads with dependable revenue sources and not speculative toll projects. Registration fees are a fixed and dependable source of funds. The choice of not doing anything is not an option either. Time in traffic equals lost wages, lost productivity, and higher cost of services and goods. The stop and go of congestion also increases gas usage and emissions. Poor roads and expensive tolls impact even non-drivers, and especially the poor. Trucks cannot use HOT lanes, and the increased traffic in regular lanes will only make it more expensive for truckers to bring goods to customers. The NCDOT’s costly toll lane plan benefits only one group of people – and that is the tolling industry.

If North Carolina is going to be a desirable and affordable state to live in and conduct business, reliable and cost-effective solutions are needed to fund our roads. Gambling on speculative toll road projects is neither reliable nor practical. If we dedicate registration fees to road projects only, we can meet our funding needs. We will be able to take care of our roads – from rural highways to urban interstate corridors, and once again be The Good Roads State.

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