On the right road

Published 11:13 pm Thursday, May 15, 2008

By Staff
A blue-ribbon panel is recommending the General Assembly consider a bond issuance of at least $1 billion for roads and public transit projects.
If lawmakers decided to proceed with the bond issuance, the state’s voters would decide the fate of the panel’s recommendation. If voters across the state could be assured their areas would receive their fair shares of revenues generated by sales of the bonds, they just might support the state borrowing money for transportation projects. If they feel like the money would be spent on pet projects in mostly urban areas, the voters may not be supportive.
For years, North Carolina was known as the “goods roads state.” That reputation is fading, if it hasn’t already faded. The state’s roads just haven’t kept up with the state’s population growth, which means more and more people are using the state’s roads.
The N.C. Department of Transportation needs a major overhaul so it can meet the future transportation needs of the state.
Leadership in the General Assembly is indicating an awareness of the transportation problem.
The blue-ribbon panel, known formally as the 21st Century Transportation Committee, released its recommendations shortly before the state House and state Senate began their short session. Those recommendations call for widening intrastate roads, building urban loops, reducing congestion and repairing bridges.
DOT officials have said the difference between transportation-related revenues and needs over the next 20 years is estimated at $65 billion. That’s a big difference, and one that needs addressing before it gets worse, which is what will happen if state leaders fail to act.
The panel came up with another suggestion that should be implemented. It said the Legislature should end the annual transfer of $172 million from the Highway Trust Fund to the state’s general fund and use much of that annual revenue to pay off the bonds, if voters give the OK to issue bonds for transportation projects. That suggestion alone is worth the panel being formed in the first place.
The state should stop raiding the Highway Trust Fund to pay for day-to-day operating expenses related to state government. The money in the Highway Trust Fund should be spent on roads.
The panel didn’t offer an exact amount for the bond proposal.
Zelnak said any bond package of less than $1 billion wouldn’t be worth taking to voters, according to the AP report.
It appears as if the state doesn’t have enough money on hand to make the transportation improvements it needs to make to properly serve its residents and taxpayers. Those improvements are needed, with many of them long overdue.
The Legislature must give serious consideration to the panel’s recommendations, especially when it comes to the bond proposal. And should voters approve a bond package, the Legislature must keep a close watch on DOT to make sure it spends that money wisely.
With proper guidance and wise use of resources, North Carolina can once again lay claim to the title of the “good roads state.”