Fiscally conservative Utah legislators may have to borrow more money than they expected to keep the state's ambitious highway reconstruction program on track.

Just two years ago, lawmakers raised the state gasoline tax to begin a 10-year freeway reconstruction program their Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt demanded.Now, barely into the long program, things aren't adding up like they had planned.

Because of federal bureaucrats' opposition to the state-favored route of the Legacy Parkway, the proposed Davis County road has been put off. Accordingly, new lanes for I-15 must be built soon to ease the congestion. And that means $55 million in unanticipated cash must be found in the road-building Centennial Highway Fund.

Democrats say the money woes facing the Republican transportation budget makers don't stop there.

"I figure they are $300 million short," says House Minority Leader Dave Jones, D-Salt Lake.

However, Democrats say there is an easy way out of the road-money-crunch: Don't build the Legacy Parkway, and put the $300-million-plus savings into the other road projects that can't wait.

"But I don't think we'll see that option," Jones says with a smile. Leavitt and GOP leaders have clearly tied their road records to Legacy.

House Speaker Marty Stephens says things are not out of whack, and leaders will just have to change some priorities.

Will lawmakers have to bond for more?

"We haven't determined that yet. We may not have to act (to come up with more money than anticipated) this session. But I think we should," said Stephens, R-Farr West.

Legislators have other options besides bonding to come up with the cash. They can raise the gasoline tax again or find some other tax on motorists. They can further slow growth in other state programs and shift general tax revenues to roads.

On top of those problems, however, lies the fact that fiscally conservative Republicans are in charge. House GOP leaders had made a stand when they demanded that the 10-year Centennial Highway Fund build $2.6 billion worth of roads and pay off the bonds for those roads within 10 years.

Today, the basic pay-as-you-go Centennial Fund, now at $2.8 billion in planned expenditures, doesn't look as if it will cover it.

The most immediate crisis is how to fund Leavitt's plan to add one lane in each direction on I-15, between I-215 and Farmington, over an 18-month construction period beginning this spring.

Borrowing money from the Legacy Parkway's share of the Centennial Fund won't work. Despite a delay in construction, UDOT wants to retain funding previously allocated for the parkway for this and next year to keep that project on track. Land acquisition is the current priority.

Besides, even though $260 million was included in the original Centennial Fund for the 12-mile, four-lane parkway, estimated construction costs have risen to well over $300 million.

Tom Warne, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, says it will be up to the Legislature to figure out how to fund the Band-Aid approach.

"With the Legacy project not coming on line as quickly as we thought, you have to bring some relief to Davis County," Warne says. "Our job is to inform (the Legislature) what the needs are, present and future."

But adding lanes on I-15 in Davis County won't relieve the pressure on lawmakers to come up with more money for road projects. In fact, the heat likely will be turned up when the I-15 reconstruction project is finished in 2001, if not before.

That's because some of the state's biggest transportation needs -- projects originally scheduled to begin before the Centennial Fund expires in 2008 -- are only partially funded in the 10-year program.

Those projects include overhauling 22 miles of I-15 in Davis County for nearly $1 billion and reconstructing I-80 from State Street to Parleys Canyon for about $500 million.

Two years ago, UDOT recommended that the Centennial Fund include enough money for I-15 reconstruction in Salt Lake County and another $1.59 billion for 43 other projects. On that list, $200 million was included for I-15 north, and $200 million also was listed for I-80.

But when lawmakers were presented with rising cost estimates for I-15 and an adjustment in anticipated funding sources, they cured that crisis by trimming funding for the 43 other projects to $1.24 billion. The big losers were I-15 north and I-80, losing a combined total of $313 million.

The decision appeased rural lawmakers who were upset with the Centennial Fund's focus on the Wasatch Front.

The bottom line is there are plenty of projects that UDOT and local government officials and legislators would like to see completed, or at least started, before the Centennial Fund expires. UDOT, with input from lawmakers, came up with more than $5 billion in statewide transportation needs two years ago.

Whether these projects will creep into the Centennial Fund and force more borrowing or be delayed until the fund expires and lawmakers come up with a new funding plan is anybody's guess, concedes former House Speaker Glen Brown, now the chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission.

The seven-member panel, appointed by the governor, establishes funding priorities for UDOT. But the commission can only do what the Legislature -- and the federal government -- give it the money to do.

"From a transportation perspective, we've got to keep things moving along or it's going to be difficult to even catch up," Brown said. "However, I think the state has to be careful to move in a very responsible way as far as overall financial conditions are concerned.