Funding support from the state and federal government for local transportation projects is “increasingly inadequate,” according to a recently released report by the National Association of Counties.
In addition to dwindling monetary support, the report found that counties around the nation are confronted with a limited number of ways to generate revenue, amid quickly rising costs for transportation projects and a steady ramp up in transportation volume. Finally, counties that have tried to address this issue head-on with funding projects, are finding that these mechanisms don’t do enough to bridge the funding gap.
“Americans driving home or U.S. businesses shipping goods to destinations want an efficient and well-maintained U.S. transportation system,” the report’s authors wrote. “They move between roads and bridges owned by different levels of government or between various types of roads, with little knowledge of the different segmentations or ownership conditions. A seamless network of roads and bridges needs consistency in construction and maintenance across the entire U.S. transportation system.”
The authors noted that funding responsibility has to be distributed across the three levels of government and that these branches must work together for the good of the domestic transportation network.
“Global competition and an increasing backlog of needs at all levels of government require strong federal-state-local and public-private collaboration and solutions,” they wrote.
The authors found that the amount of transportation dollars sent to local governments from state and federal officials fell by 10 percent between 1998 and 2011. They added that the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) compounded the issue because it put an emphasis on state and federal government spending instead of local funding.
Counties own 230,690 domestic bridges and nearly half of all public roads, the authors wrote. To take a small sample, counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee own 60 percent or more of the state-wide public roads (Kansas, with 81 percent, owns the most), according to an interactive funding map released with the report.
North Carolina and West Virginia are among the states that have no locally owned public roads.
“While local governments own 43 percent of the federal-aid highways, local areas receive a suballocation that is equal to 16 percent of the MAP-21 National Highway Performance Program and the Surface Transportation Program funding for federal-aid highways,” according to the report. “A combination of federal budget cuts, the effect of the recession on state government budgets and the fixed gas tax nature of state and federal highway funding are contributing to a widening gap in transportation funding available to counties.”
To maintain these roads, local governments are paying more. The authors found that in the past 13 years, construction costs have skyrocketed by 44 percent. Local municipalities use excise taxes on gasoline to recoup these costs, but only three states have taxes that exceed $0.35 per gallon. (California's tax rate leads the nation at $0.40 per gallon.) The majority of the states have a tax rate between $0.16 and $0.25 per gallon. Pennsylvania, where counties own only 2 percent of public roads, is the only state in the country that does not have a gasoline tax.