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RURAL AREAS WIN BIG IN ROAD FUNDING

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A new study by the Department of Transportation debunks the oft-heard complaint by rural Utahns that they pay for highway improvements along the Wasatch Front. In fact, the opposite is true.

For each gas-tax dollar Salt Lake County residents pay into the state transportation fund, they get back 48 cents in transportation work. Davis County gets less, only 42 cents.Wayne and Wasatch counties each get more than $5 for a $1 investment, the study showed.

UDOT crunched numbers from each of Utah's 29 counties over the past seven years. The findings show the state's biggest revenue generators do not receive a proportionate piece of the transportation pie.

Rightly so, say some Utahns.

"The Wasatch Front counties really do . . . make a sacrifice for their rural brethren," said Mark Walsh, associate director of the Utah Association of Counties. "But you have to accommodate that ruralness."

Think of the dilemma like this: Fewer taxpayers live in bigger counties that require more roads so drivers can get around.

Lawmakers years ago crafted a formula to address the problem. The equation divides up the state's 19-cent per gallon gas tax revenue.

Three-fourths of the money goes to UDOT, which spreads around the money based on need. The other 25 percent goes into a pot which is divvied up between cities and counties based on population, land mass and road miles.

Most agree the Wasatch Front must help with the tab in rural areas, but some question the disparity between the figures.

Neil Stack, engineering director for Salt Lake County public works, said the formula is "distorted."

"The Legislature has tried to address this, but they get beat up by the rural counties protecting their own interests," he said.

Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi pointed out the paradox in the funding formula.

"A rural road in Randolph will probably be getting the same kind of money as 900 East in Salt Lake County," he said.