RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As people hit the road this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, state leaders are grappling with how to raise the money to maintain those roads as the population grows and the gas tax becomes a less reliable source of revenue. 

As vehicles have become more fuel efficient and drivers purchase electric vehicles as well, state officials have been studying alternative sources to generate revenue and meet the expected needs of the state in the years ahead.  

In a survey, experts at NC State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education shared this month with the State Board of Transportation, 53 percent of people said they think transportation funding should be increased, while 39 percent said it should be maintained and eight percent said it should decrease. 

The researchers asked people about a variety of options to generate more money including through various tax and fee increases. In the survey, people supported a sales tax increase and a fee based on miles driven over increases to the gas tax. 

“Those are the two pieces to have an ultimate solution to having the state with enough revenues to build whatever kind of transportation system we think we need for the future,” said Mike Walden, an economist at NC State who served on the NCDOT’s NC FIRST Commission, which studied the funding issues and released a report in early 2021

The state’s motor fuels tax is 38.5 cents per gallon and generates about $1.8 billion per year, making it the single largest funding source for the transportation budget, which totals about $5 billion.  

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has set a goal through an executive order that the state have at least 1.25 million zero-emission vehicles registered in North Carolina by 2030.  

As gas prices spiked this year, some drivers say they’re giving thought to changing what kind of vehicle they purchase. 

“In the not-too-distant future hybrid or electric vehicles will definitely be a serious consideration,” said Thomas Hargrove, of Cary.  

Walden said the state could face a funding shortfall in the 2030s and supports the mileage fee option, calling it the “fairest” approach. 

“The issue is a lot of people are skeptical of a mileage fee but one of the things we heard loud and clear on the NC First Commission is a lot of people don’t want to be tracked,” he said. “We heard from officials in other states that’s not an issue, that you can set up a system whereby the tracking doesn’t occur.”  

In the budget the General Assembly passed this year, state lawmakers approved using a portion of the state’s sales tax revenue for transportation. In the fiscal year that began July 1, the state is designating two percent of that revenue for that purpose, increasing it to four percent next year and then six percent the year after that. In the third year, that would amount to more than $625 million.  

“I don’t see our population growth and our economic growth slowing down. And, that just makes the issue with how do we have adequate transportation even more paramount,” said Walden.  

He also pointed out that even though the population will grow, the rise in remote working may lessen the burden on the transportation network.  

“This is actually where some of the changes we saw during the pandemic might offer a partial solution,” he said.