Huntersville, North Carolina, Mayor Jill Swain said Congress needs to develop a comprehensive vision to address the funding shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.
Huntersville has been named one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation, with a population that has grown to 52,000 from 3,500 over the last 22 years.
While Swain, a Republican, would support an increase in the federal gas tax, she said more than that is needed to meet road and infrastructure needs.
“A gas tax is part of the equation, but we need a comprehensive plan, a vision,” Swain said in a phone interview with TI News Daily.
The millennial generation rivals the baby boomers in size, and Swain quoted studies that said many of them are moving to urban areas and not buying cars. The fewer cars on the road, the less that is collected in gas tax revenue and the less funding there is to go around, Swain said.
“We have to create a plan that fits into the wants and needs of this growing demographic,” Swain said.
Like many communities across the nation, Huntersville also has infrastructure needs that currently can’t be met due to a lack of federal funding. Swain said she’d give an overall “D” grade to her community’s roadways.
Each year, Swain and her commissioners go on a retreat, and they create a “Top 10” road-funding plan. “We have an ongoing list of projects, and we’ll never get to its end because we’re always going to have roads that need fixing." She cited one example of an exit ramp off of a major Interstate needing a $9 million face-lift.
Huntersville isn’t alone. “Our governor has recently said North Carolina needs $1.8 billion in road, bridge and infrastructure improvements.”
The current federal surface transportation program is scheduled to expire on May 31. Transportation funding is mainly paid for with a federal tax on gasoline and diesel sales, but those tax dollars are no longer sufficient as fuel efficiency improves, and as lawmakers have failed to index federal gas tax rates with inflation.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has said in testimony to Congress that lawmakers must pass a long-term federal funding bill to fix the nation’s roads and bridges, as opposed to relying on a short-term extension.
North Carolina has a transportation network that is at or beyond capacity in the fastest-growing areas of the state. Using current funds available, North Carolina will be able to pay for about 18 percent of transportation projects submitted by localities over the next 10 years, McCrory said.
While a lack of funding has left Huntersville woefully behind on its repairs, Swain said a dedicated commuter rail line, which she is lobbying for, would greatly alleviate the problem. Rail needs to be part of the overall equation to fix the nation’s broken infrastructure system.
“Taking drivers off the road and putting them on the rails would elevate road wear and tear, and reduce the amount of times roads would have to be repaired, widened and rebuilt. It would also lessen carbon emissions, relieve traffic congestion and make the roads safer to travel," Swain said.
Because rail stations usually attract businesses and new housing development, Swain said a rail line would bring in millions of dollars in new economic development.