Study: Most Local Governments say Road Funding is Inadequate

Most Utah cities and counties say they aren't getting enough funding to properly maintain their roads.

A new study from the Utah Foundation finds 82% of Utah cities and 92% of Utah counties say their transportation funding isn't sufficient to meet their current needs. 

Despite the recent focus on expanding and maintaining the freeways, that's just a quarter of the roadways in the state. The other 3/4ths are under local jurisdictions.

The foundation study revealed Utah's local roads are at a tipping point. Half of them are in "excellent or good" condition, while the other half are in "fair to poor" condition. 

"If preventative maintenance is done on a road when it's in the 'excellent or good' category, it costs 3-5 times less than reconstructive maintenance done on the roads in poorer condition," said Utah Foundation Research Analyst Mallory Bateman. "Those local entities told us that better maintenance was a top priority. If they had more money, that's where it would go."

Kaysville Mayor Steve Hiatt echoed that assertion.

"Delaying maintenance means we spend more than with proactive maintenance. We want to maintain our transportation systems because it helps everybody."

Most of the money for local roads comes from the Class B and C Road Fund. However, the study found that money only covers about a third of the need. That forces local entities into a hard choice – delay maintenance, which costs much more, or dip into their general fund and reduce services to pay for roads.

"We have two choices," said Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson. "We can address this need head on as a wise investment, or we can wait until that need has gotten out of hand. Then we're fixing the problem from behind. I'm about saving taxpayer money in the long term."

So, what's to be done? Lawmakers could either make an adjustment to the gas tax, or push for a quarter percent increase in the local sales tax. The second option is favored by the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

A recent survey found that Utahns ranked education and job development as their top issues for Utah's future, while transportation came in sixth out of six.

Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes acknowledged that the public might not understand the need for funding for local transportation.

"Our best theory is people feel policy makers are already paying attention to transportation," he said. "There's been a lot of attention given to I-15 and other highways, but that's only 25% of the total system. Education and transportation are linked together. As a young and growing state, we need both in order to remain economically competitive."

You can read the Utah Foundation report here.