Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Cash-strapped states are advised to turn some rural roads back to local governments

Does your state maintain many rural secondary roads that should arguably be local responsibilities? If so, your local governments might soon be asked to accept responsibility for some of them, because the slow economy is squeeezing state budgets.

In Virginia, which has the highest share of state-maintained rural roads, almost 95 percent, and has gone through more than 20 years of battles on how to fund transportation projects in its part of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, local officials fear the burden will fall back to them, Bob Lewis of The Associated Press reports.

"Because of the neglect of the state since 1986 to fix the transportation funding formula and revenue stream, we're playing catch-up with a lot of these roads and we just don't have the adequate tools to do it in a meaningful way. I can't just raise the revenue I need," Spotsylvania County Supervisor Hap Conners told Lewis.

A comprehensive study released by Virginia's George Mason University offered "devolution," turning rural road responsibilities back to counties, as a option for struggling states. The Virginia Association of Counties wrote in a rebuttal, "Any proposals to shift secondary road construction and maintenance funding responsibilities to localities also shifts political liability for unpopular tax increases to local officials." (Read more)

Other states where at least five of every six miles of rural roads are under state ownership are West Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina, according to the Federal Highway Administration's Highway Statistics 2008. Next are South Carolina (61 percent), Alaska (39), Kentucky (38), Maine (37.9) and Pennsylvania (37.7). Click here to see percentages for all 50 states.

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