Cover Story: Funding NC roads

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - $1,300.  That's how much drivers in and around Charlotte lose each year stuck in traffic and in crashes and dealing with poor roads.

It's money you probably aren't budgeting for.  A study released Tuesday says for a mere $65 billion we could have world-class roads 20 years from now.

The question is how much are you willing to pay out of pocket for the promise of perfect roads?

We all want them, but let somebody else pay for them.

A 50-page report finds North Carolina's current system of funding roads won't stack up for the future.

Call them the hidden costs.

A report released Tuesday on North Carolina's transportation system from TRIP a nonprofit transportation research group finds North Carolina drivers lose $5.7 billion each year as a result of driving on roads that are congested, deteriorated or lack some desirable safety features.

For Charlotte-area drivers that sitting in traffic, cost from crashes where the road was at fault and cost of repairs from falling into potholes averages out to about $1,351 a year you're not budgeting for.

"They need a lot of work.. lot of potholes need to be improved," says driver Travis Mauney.

The report found more than one-fourth of North Carolina's major roads are deteriorated.  Nearly one-third of the state's bridges in need of improvement.  And traffic congestion continues to choke major roads.

Charlotte area drivers it's estimated lose 40 hours each year stuck in traffic.

"Traffic congestion continues to increase here in the Charlotte area not withstanding the current economic downturn," says Frank Moretti, director of policy and research for TRIP.

The report finds the state's current way of funding roads (using the gas tax and other taxes and fees) won't be able to fix our aging infrastructure and build the new roads and bridges needed to keep up with the demand of a growing population.

TRIP says an extra $65 billion is needed over the next 20 years.

"If that's what it's going to cost.. that's what we need to do."

But where to get that money?  How much is it worth to you?  Are you willing to pay a toll to drive on say I-485?

Chrissy Hatch says she would.  She said, "It might upset some of the people that travel on there daily.. but I personally wouldn't mind because I don't travel that road very often."

How about raising the gas tax to where gas is six-bucks a gallon?  We asked Judy and George Pyle what they thought about that.  The husband and wife were traveling through Charlotte on their way home to Ontario, Canada.

"Let's say $6.00 a gallon for gas. No. You could go jump in the lake. You would lose one tourist. So we've reached the price point. Yeah, right."

Which roads need attention in the Charlotte area?  The TRIP report cited a couple-- widening I-85, I-77 and I-485.

Researchers also advocating extending Charlotte's light rail line out to University City.

What will happen to the report?

It will be used by groups to point to when they lobby the General Assembly for more funding for roads.. not only for safety reasons but also to create jobs and help lure companies here.

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