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A new study says that 82 percent of Utah cities and 95 percent of counties report their transportation funding is insufficient, causing half of their roads to deteriorate into their current poor or fair condition.
The Utah Foundation study released Wednesday also said that fixing such poor roads is three to five times more expensive than regular maintenance of good roads, akin to how regular brushing of teeth can prevent a high-cost root canal.
Utah cities and counties report they now largely cannot afford such maintenance because of declining revenues from the state's 24.5 cent a gallon gasoline tax, according to the study. A third of that tax goes to cities and counties, and lawmakers are considering raising the tax this year.
"We can address the need head-on and we can use that as a wise investment that will save us billions in the future, or we can wait until that need has gotten out of hand," Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson, a former state legislator, said at a Capitol press conference releasing results.
The Utah Foundation surveyed local officials and administrators about their road and funding conditions.
Study author Mallory Bateman said money from the state gasoline tax now covers only a third of local transportation costs, and cities and counties are increasingly raiding their general funds and other programs for roads.
Kaysville Mayor Steve Hiatt said that since 1997 when the gas tax was last raised, "its buying power has declined by 48 percent, while transportation material costs have increased by as much as 300 percent."
Besides supporting a gas-tax increase, cities and counties have told legislators they would like to ask voters for a sales-tax increase of a quarter-cent per $1 purchase for transportation. Supporters of mass transit also have sought a sales-tax increase.
Both House Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser have said they would prefer that cities, counties and transit agencies come up with a joint proposal on sales tax that would benefit all of them.
Bateman, who is president of the Utah Association of Counties, and Hiatt, a vice president of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said the groups are working on that.
"I expect that we will come up with something between the league and the Association of Counties and the transit agencies … that will be acceptable to the Legislature," Gibson said.
"I don't know exactly how that looks yet, but we definitely are going to have a recommendation for the Legislature" in the near future, he added.
The requests for more money for local governments come as the state also is trying to figure out how to cover a projected $11.3 billion shortfall in high-priority highway and transit projects in the state's 2040 unified transportation plan.