MATTHEWS – A recent increase in the amount drivers in Matthews pay to register their vehicles will cut into the amount of road needs across town, but fall short of addressing the entirety of the issue, according to a recent report.
Matthews leaders voted earlier this month to increase the vehicle tag fee by $10 to $25 per driver, creating an extra $234,000 a year that would increase revenue from the program, which helps fund road repairs, to roughly $575,000 annually.
The Matthews Board of Commissioners voted in favor of the tag fee increase instead of a possible tax increase of 1 or 1.5 cents, with some on the board saying they did not want to raise taxes this year assuming they will have to raise taxes next year to address infrastructure concerns with South Trade Street.
But the town’s road problems aren’t limited to the much-maligned South Trade Street.
The 2014 Pavement Management Report revised on May 23 indicated Matthews roads have a “pavement condition rating” of 76.8 – down from 86.9 in 2011 – and pointed out a $11 million backlog in needed road repairs. The report also stated that 71.7 percent of Matthews “lane miles” are in good condition, a number that was projected to drop to 49.3 percent if the town kept current funding levels for the next decade. Kercher Engineering, which coordinated the road survey, is expected to submit a report detailing needed work on specific roads by the end of June – though Matthews Public Works Director Ralph Messera pointed to Fullwood Lane, which has a lot of truck traffic, and Northeast Parkway as two roads in need of serious attention. Many Matthews roads are owned by the state and not the town’s responsibility.
Commissioner Chris Melton is awaiting results of the Kercher analysis about how to handle needed road repairs so the town can move forward. He’s aware it will be a long process, and one he wants the town to get right the first time.
“There are a lot of needs, and Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Melton said. “We can’t do it all in one year.”
Melton said it’s important the town think this through before taking the next step, because whatever Matthews decides to do in the near future will have a lasting impact on the town.
“We need to figure out what’s wrong, develop a plan to fix it and stick with that plan,” he said.
A rapidly growing population in the region has battered Matthews roads – many of which were not built to handle the amount of vehicles that travel through the town today. This year’s winter weather also played a part in deteriorating roads, as the ice and efforts to remove ice added to pavement aging.
“… It is recommended that the town consider taking steps to reverse the downward trend in pavement conditions and reassess the funding decisions impacting the pavement network,” the study’s conclusion read.
How to address the problem is a matter for debate. But there is no debate among town leaders that something needs to be done or else Matthews will face a worse problem in years to come. Many of the town’s roads, especially those in neighborhoods, will soon reach or have well passed the 20-year life expectancy of road pavement. And since many of the roads were built around the same time, a number of projects could come due at the same time.
“We will have to do something additional (to the fee increase) at some point because clearly the roads are deteriorating,” Mayor Jim Taylor said. “… (there are) an awful lot of needs out there.”
The road pavement report analyzed how different town spending habits would impact area road conditions, with the town’s tag fee increase falling in the middle of two estimates. A budget increase of $110,000 per year for 10 years would set the repair backlog at $13,387,044 and the “lane miles” in good condition to 53.7 percent. A budget increase of $330,000 per year for 10 years would set the repair backlog at $11,535,204 and the “lane miles” in good condition to 60.5 percent.
It can be assumed the current increase of $234,000 per year falls roughly in the middle of those two sets of numbers, though any of the three scenarios will see road needs increase between today and 2024 if nothing else is done, according to the report.
Messera has asked for additional funding for road repairs in recent years, and will quickly find a use for the expanded funding from the tag fee – though the report, he said, suggests that funding level will just allow the town to “hold your own” and not make headway on needs.
“The long-term gain, you may need more money than that,” he said.
Taylor had recommended the town consider another way to increase revenue – such as a tax increase – since the tag fee would not tax the commercial vehicles that contribute to damage on roads such as Independence Pointe and Northeast parkways. The town could consider increasing the tag fee again, hiking the town tax rate or turning to a voter bond, but the mayor knows something will eventually have to be done.
“Even if we were to have doubled the fee, we still would have come up short,” Taylor said.
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