NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Trying to Give Control over Roads to Cities

April 18, 2014

Some states are looking to begin transferring their roads to local control, says Stateline.

  • City officials in Beaufort, South Carolina, a small town with a population of just 13,000, have long wanted to narrow the town's lanes and add on-street parking to its streets, in an attempt to slow down traffic.
  • But the state of South Carolina, which owns the roads, has control over such decisions.

But Beaufort may soon be able to narrow those lanes, because  state legislators are trying to save money. Transferring state road networks to local control could save significant amounts of money. South Carolina has had trouble encouraging localities to take over state roads, so some lawmakers are looking to sweeten the deal with additional funding.

Road upkeep is expensive.

  • In 2009, the state of Texas spent a full $1 billion maintaining its roads.
  • On average, state governments own 19 percent of the roads in their states.
  • But West Virginia owns a full 89 percent of the roads within its borders.
  • Delaware has 84 percent, Virginia 78 percent, North Carolina 75 percent and South Carolina 63 percent.

Texas, which owns  80,000 miles worth of road, is trying to encourage cities to take back some of its lesser-used roadways, telling cities that they could be more responsive to local residents' concerns if they have authority over the roadways -- which also means control over traffic flow, parking, speed limits and maintenance schedules. The Texas Department of Transportation's "turnback" program would make 59 localities eligible to participate, though only Lubbock and San Antonio have applied for the program.

The states that own the smallest percent of road networks are New Jersey (6 percent), Kansas (7 percent), Iowa (8 percent), Michigan (8 percent) and Massachusetts (8 percent).

Source: Daniel C. Vock, "States Try to Unload Local Roads," Stateline, April 10, 2014.


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