A third of Utah’s highways are in some stage of decay, according to Utah Department of Transportation head Carlos Braceras.The news is nothing new, but lawmakers appear to be listening.
On Wednesday, the Interim Transportation Committee discussed the possibility of increasing the gas tax, something that hasn’t been done in Utah for seventeen years. Since then, Utah has seen a rise in fuel efficient cars, less car usage,and inflation, which has eaten away at the fund for roads. Currently, Utah’s tax stands at 24.5 cents per gallon, ranking near the middle compared to other states.
During the 2014 legislative session, Representative Jim Nielson (Republican – Bountiful) proposed legislation to phase in an increase to the fuel tax to 32 cents per gallon by July, 2018. The bill, however, was dead on arrival despite early speculation that such legislation would pass out of necessity. Once fully implemented, the legislation was predicted to generate $111 million annually for the transportation budget.
Braceras noted that the majority of bridges around Utah were built during the 1960s infrastructure boom, but decades of use have corroded many to the point needing imminent repair. UDOT estimates that the state will need an additional $67 million to upgrade the dilapidated bridges and cracked roads. “The revenues are not there, with a simple adjustment, the system we have will take care of it,” said Braceras. But even this simple increase would not solve the downward loss in tax revenue for infrastructure, he says, and alternative sources of revenue need to be considered for the long-term.
The committee took several aspects into account, some included whether the cost of transportation could be split between an increase in the sales tax, or tax incentives for green cars being curbed or removed. Some lawmakers are already talking about the creation of a bill that would shift the burden of taxes by lowering sales taxes and increasing the gas tax.
Currently, Utah receives $300 million annually in federal funding for road repair, but that fund is expected to end in August of this year. Braceras noted that Utah is able to pay for road repairs into 2015, but afterwords, the state road repair fund would be unsustainable.