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COUNTIES VYING FOR U.S. ROAD FUNDS

SHARE COUNTIES VYING FOR U.S. ROAD FUNDS

A national transportation committee chaired by Salt Lake County Commissioner Bart Barker is planning strategy to win federal highway funds once the Interstate freeway system is finished in 1991.

With the Interstate system finished, federal highway funds raised by the 9-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax each year are being targeted for other uses. The National Association of Counties Transportation Steering Committee, which met in Salt Lake Monday, wants that money directed toward the development and improvement of county highways.While the county representatives recognize a significant portion of the $12 billion the gasoline tax raises each year will be needed to maintain the Interstate system, about $3 billion per year has been identified that could be used to develop and improve county roads that interface with the Interstate and complement federal highways in urban areas, Barker said.

Now is the time to plan strategy to get money because the fund's authorization will be rewritten concurrent with the Interstate system's completion, Barker said.

But there is competition for the funds.

Counties will be vying for the money against states, which would like to see the money disbursed at their level, Barker said. Other competition comes from members of Congress who would like to use the money to help shrink the federal deficit.

Congress also has discussed raising or even doubling the gasoline tax and using the new portion for deficit reduction, but doing that dilutes the integrity of the tax as a user fee and compromises future infrastructure needs, Barker said.

Ernest Geissler, representing the Washington State Road Administration Board on the transportation committee, said a decline in railroad traffic has put more strain on county road systems, which now are carrying more heavy trucks.

Marleen Eide, a county commissioner from Williams County, N.D., said heavier county road use means larger loads on aging bridges. Some 165,000 bridges across the nation are substandard, she said.