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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah motorists are getting a pretty good bargain for the roads they drive on, a new report shows.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, from 2005 to 2009, every state in the country received more funding for highway programs than they contributed to the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund.
The report also stated that 28 states received a relatively lower share than they contributed and 22 states received a relatively higher share.
Utah received $1.10 for every dollar of fuel taxes and highway user fees it collected, putting the Beehive State toward the bottom of the national rankings. Texas received the lowest return getting $1.03 for each dollar contributed.
Conversely, Alaska got the highest return, getting $4.99 for every dollar contributed.
Whether your were higher or lower on the recipient list, states made out rather well, according to Utah's top transportation official.
Texas: $1.03 (lowest in country) Colorado: $1.09 Arizona: $1.07 Utah: $1.10 Nevada: $1.16 Wyoming: $1.67 Idaho: $1.70 Alaska $4.99 (highest in country, excluding D.C.)
"It's hard to say you're not getting a fair shake when you're getting more than you put in," said Utah Dept. of Transportation director John Njord. "(No state) can argue that they didn't get their fair share because they got more than they paid into (the trust fund)."
Since 2006, Utah has received more than $300 million dollars per year from the fund, UDOT records indicate.
Most of the money from the annual trust fund appropriation is typically designated to maintain state and federal roadways within each state, Njord said. However, there are numerous other categories that describe how certain "pots" of trust fund money can be used, he added.
The Equity Bonus Program paid out $44 billion overall to guarantee a minimum return to each state.
Nearly every state received Equity Bonus funding, with about half receiving at least 25 percent over their core funding.
Njord said an excess balance of federal monies that was left in the Highway Trust Fund a few years ago was designated for distribution until fully disbursed. He said that money has now run out and states will likely find themselves losing millions of dollars targeted for highway maintenance in the years to come.
The report stated that the infusion of general tax revenues into the Highway Trust Fund affects the relationship between funding and contributions now that a significant amount of highway funding is no longer provided by highway users. Additionally, determining highway funding by using rate of return poses challenges related to performance and accountability of the highway program, the report stated.
We're looking at about a 35 percent decrease in revenues that we will receive from the (HTF) in future years. That's our life blood in being able to maintain the federal (highway) system within our state.
–- John Njord, UDOT director
"In effect, rate-of-return calculations override other considerations to yield a largely predetermined outcome — that of returning revenues to their state of origin," the report said. Because of those and other challenges, funding surface transportation programs remains on the GAO’s high-risk list.
For the most part, federal funding for highways is provided to the states through a series of grant programs known as the Federal-Aid Highway Program, administered by the Federal Highway Administration.
In 2005, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users authorized $197.5 billion for the Federal-Aid Highway Program for fiscal years 2005 through 2009. The program has operated on a “user pay” system, in which users contribute to the Highway Trust Fund through fuel taxes and other fees.
The distribution of funding among the states has been a contentious issue. States that receive less than highway users contribute are known as “donor” states while states that receive more than users contribute are referred to as “donee” states.
Nord said Utah has been a donor state for a while, but the situation may change very soon as the excess funding runs out. He said UDOT is now focused on what the agency can do to meet the state's highway maintenance needs going into the future.
"We're looking at about a 35 percent decrease in revenues that we will receive from the Highway Trust Fund in future years," he explained. "That's our life blood in being able to maintain the federal (highway) system within our state."
How Utah and other states will make up the difference in funding has yet to be determined, Nord said.