Road-funding formula is under attack

Published 2:49 pm Friday, November 30, 2007

By Staff
Hold onto your wallet.
Some North Carolina lawmakers are calling for a change in how transportation money is distributed, and that change doesn’t bode well for smaller counties.
When it comes to transportation funding, population is a significant, determining factor under the current funding formula. The two remaining factors are the number of highway miles still due to be widened from two lanes to four lanes under a 1989 plan and the division of the state into seven geographic regions, each to be treated equally. That formula benefits Beaufort County. If funding were based on just population, it would always be at the end of the line when compared with Wake, Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties.
But the end of the line is where some lawmakers want us to be.
Their message was sent to the 21st Century Transportation Committee, a group established by Gov. Mike Easley and the leaders of the House and Senate. It is charged with coming up with an interim report by May and a final report by the end of the year.
Rep. Becky Carney, a Charlotte Democrat and one of two people from Mecklenburg County on the panel, said she favors changing the funding formula, but doing so will require compromise, she said in a story published by The Charlotte Observer.
We’ll make the argument that the current funding system may not be perfect, but it beats a system that makes population the major component. One reason Charlotte has traffic congestion is Charlotte has allowed it to happen. If leaders there expect the state to bail them out, it will dilute the amount of money available for smaller, rural areas. Without good roads the smaller counties, many of them down east, will continue to lack the infrastructure to attract new jobs and new residents. To focus our road building efforts on the metro areas would mean the rich would continue to get richer and the poor would continue to get poorer.
Rep. Nelson Cole, a Reidsville Democrat and a member of the 21st Century Transportation Committee, seems to understand that.
Not all of the recommendations from Stam and Berger were without merit.
They propose selling $2 billion in road bonds and paying the money back with the $172 million a year that’s being taken out of the Highway Trust Fund to pay for general-fund expenses.
We wish the transportation committee well. Perhaps if we can change the way the Department of Transportation operates and spend our dollars wisely, we can tackle the rising road issues we are facing. But in doing so, we hope that the smaller counties don’t get the short end of the stick.