When I think about all the things I expect from North Carolina, "the good roads state" doesn't jump to the top of my list of priorities. But along with forever bragging about our accidental claim to First in Flight, we sure seem to have a hang up about spending on highway construction.
There was probably a time when visionary thinkers could make the case that a network of world-class roads would be key to a sustainable future . . . like 90 years ago or so, when we pioneered the practice of making untold public investments into a miraculous network of highways . . . ready and waiting for Peak Oil.
But don't let a little worry about the inevitable collapse of the oil economy stop you . . . we have to keep on bulldozing and building, pouring that gas tax money right back into the hole it came from. At least that's what the Carolina Automobile Association wants (and who would expect otherwise).
Higher gasoline taxes should mean well-paved highways, less traffic congestion and new roads built in areas of predictable, explosive growth. But North Carolina, once known as the Good Roads State, instead has used the gasoline tax as a partial funding mechanism for the general fund, instead of just for highways. For at least the past five years, a portion of gasoline tax receipts has gone to the general fund for non-highway purposes.
I personally would be happy to see some of that money going into transportation alternatives that lessen our dependence on automobiles and oil and gas. Just think where we might be if the visionaries in the 20s had put transit and environmental responsibility on their priority lists.
The "good roads state" comes at a significant cost. I don't have all the latest figures, but it looks like we've budgeted $1.6 billion for 06-07. (For context, that's about a quarter of the Department of Public Instruction budget . . . and ten times the size of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.)
My solution? Work from home. Try it, you'll like it.