Utah in for bumpy ride without more road money

Transportation • UDOT using maintenance money for freeways, highways and letting rural routes deteriorate.
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As a sign of rough roads ahead — literally — legislators were warned Tuesday that growth in highway funds is not keeping up with inflation.

So more and more needed maintenance will be ignored unless lawmakers come up with a way to funnel additional money to roads, said legislative fiscal analyst Mark Bleazard.

John Njord, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, agreed.

"We have a very significant challenge ahead of us," he told the Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Committee.

Njord said UDOT already has decided to sacrifice some roads to maintain others — targeting most maintenance money to freeways and heavily used highways, while letting lightly used rural routes deteriorate.

"It pains me," Njord said. "Our roads are like our children. I like to treat all the children the same, but we can't do that anymore. Some children are favored; some are not so favored."

He projected significant deterioration on the 2,735 miles of more lightly used rural highways — just fewer than half of Utah's highways — unless a proposal by Gov. Gary Herbert is approved to switch $40 million from sales taxes targeted to increase capacity on highways into maintenance.

Committee Chairman Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who was a former chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission, said he would support a partial shift of the money proposed by the governor, but added the governor is being too aggressive because increases in capacity are also needed.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, also floated the idea of raising state diesel taxes to raise more maintenance money. He noted the federal government now charges higher tax on diesel than gasoline, but Utah levies the same level on both.