Pothole season brings little new funding to fix them

With the arrival of spring, potholes are sprouting across the country. The money needed to fill them, though, is turning out to be harder to find.

Despite a relatively mild winter, this year's seasonal thaw is inflicting another cycle of blown tires, busted axles and other repairs related to bad roads.

In the last five years, some 16 million drivers have suffered vehicle damage related to potholes, according to a survey by AAA. State by state, the average annual repair bill ranges from $60 (in Georgia) to $600 (New Jersey), according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The cost of fixing the nation's roadways, on the other hand, can be measured in the billions. The Federal Highway Administration estimates it will cost $170 billion a year to make a dent in the backlog of bridge and highway overhaul projects.

The effort to fund those repairs advanced late last year when Congress broke years of gridlock and passed a five-year, $305 billion bill to bail out the Highway Trust Fund, which had been running on financial fumes. But the measure was loaded with accounting tricks and earmarks and failed to address the longer-term deficit in funding America's bridges and highways

Much of the shortfall stems from the two-decade failure to adjust gasoline and diesel fuel for inflation. As a result, the main funding sources for road construction and upkeep have lost much of their spending power.

Some states have moved to raise more money on their own.

Last year, six states raised their gasoline taxes, including Idaho Idaho (7 cents per gallon) and Georgia (6.7 cents for gas and 7.7 cents for diesel), Maryland (1.8 cents) and Rhode Island (1 cent). Gas taxes also went up in Nebraska (0.5 cent) and Vermont (0.35 cent), where the tax rate varies based on gasoline prices.

Other states, including Indiana, South Carolina and West Virginia, have considered similar moves. But so far, those measures haven't gotten very far, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a tax research group.

"Legislators in all three states embraced partial solutions or punted entirely, preferring short-term fixes at the expense of other budget priorities," Sebastian Johnson, a policy analyst with ITEP, wrote in a recent blog post.

Colorado lawmakers recently passed a $27 billion budget, including just $150 million for road construction and repair, a $50 million cut from last year.

North Carolina voters last month voted overwhelmingly to borrow $2 billion to invest in a long list of state infrastructure projects, but roads and bridges didn't make the list. About two-thirds of the money will pay for new buildings and renovations at the state's public colleges and universities — the rest will pay for water and sewer systems, parks and other projects.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory had asked for the bond package to include highway projects, but the legislature opted to pay for roads with dedicated transportation funds.

In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed boosting spending on road and bridge projects by 25 percent by cutting back on other spending.

Indiana lawmakers last month closed out their annual session by slashing a four-year $1 billion road spending plan proposed Republican Gov. Mike Pence and nixing a proposed increase in the gas tax.

Mississippi's legislature recently tabled a plan to raise $441 million by raising gas taxes to fix crumbling roads and bridges.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.