Utah, like most states, is facing a transportation funding paradox. On one hand, the building of new roads is vital for economic growth, on the other hand the raising of taxes to pay for these roads is both politically unpopular and could have a negative impact on the state’s ability to attract new business. When we consider the additional burden of an aging interstate system that requires constant maintenance, problems begin to compound.
These were some of the issues discussed at the Economic Development Task Force Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers first heard from Steve Allred and Thomas Young, two of the Legislature’s fiscal analysts who warned that raising the fuel tax could result in a decrease in job growth in the state over the coming years. This information was soon followed by UDOT officials warning that the states secondary roads—roads that receive less than 1,000 cars or 200 trucks in a day—were suffering due to reduced maintenance.
In all, the state expects a deficit of roughly $30 Million annually to keep up with maintenance needs. For example, Utah currently replaces about 15 bridges a year, but that number would need to be around 50 replacements a year to properly maintain Utah’s aging bridges.
It was revealed by UDOT’s Executive Director, Carlos Braceras, that the state’s Level 1 roads—roads that average more than 1,000 cars or 200 trucks in a day—are in a stable and sustainable conditon (with the exception of six bridges in Davis County that are scheduled for reconstruction in the fall), however dramatic funding challenges exist for the state’s less traveled but vital roads.
Compounding UDOT’s problems is the federal government’s failure to properly fund the MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) Act. The Act, according to Braceras, is good policy, however Congress has failed to fund the program. In all, the Republican-controlled House is blocking $230 Million to the state and $40 Million to local municipalities to pay for road construction and maintenance.
Though the state system is sound, “local goverments do not have the tools they need to address local [road construction and maintenance] needs,” Braceras warned.
Lawmakers are attempting to find a so-called “sweet spot” between raising funds for transportation that would maximize growth, while reducing the negative impacts of burdensome taxation. One way they plan to acheive this is through a new funding process set forth in a recently passed law that would allow the state to divert 30 percent of future sales tax growth into transportation funds.
Despite the increasing financial struggles, UDOT says they’re proud of the fact that drive times have gone down relative to cities such as Las Vegas, Denver, and Phoenix.