Examples of highway funding challenges in states

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 3, 2013 

SALES TAXES Voters in Richland County, S.C., which includes the state capital, Columbia, approved a penny sales-tax increase in November to fund $1 billion in local transportation projects.

“We know the more geographically focused the tax proposal and the more specific it is, we see more support from voters,” said Brian Taylor, the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But voters don’t always go along. Last summer, the 10 metropolitan Atlanta counties rejected a 1 percent sales tax to fund $8.5 billion to address the region’s notoriously congested highway and transit systems.

A cluster of casinos in Tunica, Miss., wanted a faster way for gamblers to get to the slot machines. And backers of Interstate 69, a proposed Canada-to-Mexico trade corridor, wanted a footprint in Mississippi that would help them get more funding for the road.

So casino taxes, local bonds and federal funds went toward building a 12-mile stretch of the highway from Interstate 55 to the casinos’ doorstep. The $137 million road opened in 2006, but Mississippi and neighboring states lack the funds to build any more of I-69.

TOLLS South Carolina’s $300 million Southern Connector toll road near Greenville fell well short of its projected traffic, and its nonprofit operator filed for bankruptcy in 2010. The already fund-strapped state took over ownership of the road, increasing tolls to try to make up for the losses.

North Carolina’s Interstate 95 is one of the oldest and most worn-out sections of the Interstate Highway System. The state doesn’t have the $4 billion it needs to rebuild the road, and it plans to raise the revenue by charging tolls. Yet it’s also planning to build two new billion-dollar highways near Charlotte.

“The problem we have as a state is we don’t have the revenue we need to take care of the infrastructure we currently have, whether it’s Interstate 95 or other roads,” Republican state Sen. Ralph Hise said at an October committee hearing.

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