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Study: Utah's decaying local roads require more funding

By Katie McKellar | Posted - Jan. 28, 2015 at 6:49 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — City and county officials convened Wednesday to discuss the findings of a new study that shows a drastic need for more local road funding across Utah.

The Utah Foundation study released Wednesday, authored by research analyst Mallory Bateman, found that 82 percent of city respondents and 95 percent of county respondents consider their current transportation funding is lacking.

State funding — the Class B and C Road Fund — covers only about one-third of local transportation costs, and the lack of funding is causing half of local roads to deteriorate, according to the study.

Kaysville Mayor Steve Hiatt, representing the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said Utah government leaders and legislators need to recognize that the state’s transportation needs are “outpacing” current transportation funding.

“Right now, we are at the tipping point between benefiting from the sound stewardship of past investments and playing catch-up,” Hiatt said. “The need is clear, but what is yet to be seen is if (residents), local officials (and) the state Legislature will stand up and make tough decisions needed to allow the transportation systems of our communities to grow and thrive.”

The survey found better transportation maintenance funding is a top priority “across the board” for city and county officials who responded to the survey, as maintenance is one of the largest areas of Utah’s transportation spending, Bateman said.

The study showed the cost of fixing roads in poor condition is three to five times more expensive than the cost of maintaining roads of good condition.

Hiatt said if local governments delay road maintenance costs, local governments will find themselves spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars more” than the costs of proactive maintenance.

City and county officials who responded to the study said declining revenues from the state’s 24.5-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax are causing them to struggle to make ends meet for road maintenance, so they’ve been dipping into city and county general funds to avoid road deterioration.

As a solution, Utah lawmakers may decide to raise the tax during the 2015 legislative session.

Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson, chairman of the Utah Association of Counties, said his long-term focus is to save Utah taxpayers money by being “forward-thinking.”

“We have two choices,” Gibson said. “We can address the need head-on, and we can (make) a wise investment that will save us literally billions in the future, or we can wait until that need has gone out of hand. … And then (we will have to fix) the problem in perpetuity from behind.”

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and House Speaker Greg Hughes have asked transportation agencies, cities and counties to draft a proposal together to solve the local transportation issue. Hiatt said he and other local leaders are collaborating and “open to anything,” though they have not produced a solid answer yet.

“What we’re most interested in is having the dialogue and showing the Legislature we’re unified and that something needs to happen,” Hiatt said.

Groups including the Utah Transportation Coalition and the Salt Lake Chamber have been collaborating with the Utah Association of Counties to build a strategy with city and county officials to solve the funding issue, Hiatt said.

“We’re early in the session. We’re talking about it,” Gibson said. “I don’t know exactly how it looks yet, but we are definitely going to have a recommendation for the Legislature within the near future.” Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

Katie McKellar

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