Funding failing roads: Pay more at the pump or drive on dirt

LEE COUNTY, AL (WTVM) - Lee County engineers could be forced to let some paved roads transition back to dirt.

If lawmakers decided against a three cent sales tax, a statewide effort to generate more than a billion dollars to repair roads and bridges will fail.

"We are standing on Lee Road 852, a road here in Lee County, as you can see it has potholes, base failures, cracks, it has out lived its design life," said county engineer Justin Hardee.

Hardee says there is little funding to improve 500 of Lee County's 675 miles of paved roads that need work ranging from major resurfacing to minor upkeep.

He says revenue sources - tied to gas taxes - can't keep up with increasing asphalt prices and demand. There's more traffic on the road, causing more wear and tear, but drivers are spending less at the pump in fuel-efficient vehicles.

Lee County is supporting the County Commission Association's statewide effort to float a one-time $1.2 Billion Bond dedicated to roads and bridges, by asking lawmakers to approve 3 cents per gallon gas tax hike at the fuel pump.

"For the average Alabamian it's about $1.80 a month or around $18 a year. Not a lot for all of these new roads and bridges" said Hardee.

"Lee County would get approximately $27-29 million, the cities get 20 percent of that, so Lee County's share would be about $21-23 million," explained County Administrator Roger Rendleman.

If lawmakers don't pass the tax, Rendleman says Lee County could join 20 counties across the state who are already turning paved roads back to dirt.

"To go in and plow those roads up, turn them back into dirt because dirt is easier to maintain that paved ones," Rendleman said.

This potential tax increase will not be decided by the voters. State law allows legislators to approve this type of tax without it going on a ballot. So, if you have a strong opinion either way, contact your representative.

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