The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:
North Carolina owned and earned the title “Good Roads State” for a lot of years. We did it right, maintaining what we had, expanding where we needed.
But any driver knows that era is gone. We’ve got big headaches out there, and there’s not enough money in the till to make them go away.
But if you ever duck across the state line to fill up on South Carolina’s much-cheaper gas (averaging 20 cents a gallon less this week), you know that drivers there are getting what they pay for – crumbling roads that make most of our roads look downright healthy.
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There’s a good lesson there for us, one our lawmakers need to heed.
The flood-of-a-lifetime that devastated South Carolina last month was especially hard on the state’s roads and bridges. A month after the storm, 54 roads and 29 bridges are still closed.
Federal emergency funding is helping the state make repairs, but in most circumstances, the feds will only reimburse work that returns the roads to safe condition. There’s no free pass there to pay for the improvements that most of South Carolina’s roads need.
Even before the flooding, less than 20 percent of the state’s more than 40,000 miles of non-interstate highway was rated as “good.” The state Department of Transportation says it needs an extra $500 million a year just to get the roads back into fair condition.
A bill in the S.C. Senate would have raised about $800 million a year for road improvements, but opponents of boosting the gas tax blocked a vote and the legislative session ended. The measure will be back on the agenda when lawmakers reconvene next June. Meanwhile, the roads continue to crumble.
Here in North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory pushed hard in the last legislative session for a bond initiative that would have jump-started our own highway rebuilding. But opposition was especially strong in the Senate, where leaders would only accept a bond proposal for buildings – mostly on state college campuses. Senate leader Phil Berger said the state’s highway trust funds can sustain the rebuilding and expansion our roads need.
While it’s laudable that Berger and others have halted the annual legislative raid on those funds, they still don’t produce enough to keep existing roads safe, let alone fund new ones.
North Carolina needs to develop new ways to fund its highways, and it needs to do it soon. For a preview of failure, just take a ride south of our border.