Fees Called For to Preserve Roads, Bridges

FEDERAL, state, and local governments must raise taxes and fees if the nation's decaying roads, bridges, and other public works are to be maintained. The alternative is to cut services. That is the conclusion of the congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in a report released yesterday by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.

The report says three conflicting issues have hindered government efforts to fill potholes, fix bridges, get rid of garbage, and provide safe drinking water:

A shortage of funds for competing government services.

Inadequate transportation and environmental infrastructure at a time of rapid technical and economic change.

The importance of preserving the environment and the quality of life.

The OTA finds that federal management of public works and environmental-protection programs is so compartmentalized that policies in a sector are often set with no consideration of how they may affect another sector.

``It is time for Federal and State Governments to acknowledge [the] broader aspects of public works and to create a coherent, supportive management framework that includes adequate financing,'' the report says.

The report criticizes the federal government for rigid standards that do not account for local conditions. It also cites a lack of coordination between federal agencies doing related work, frequent regulation changes that send local officials back to the drawing boards, and excessive paper work requirements.

Public works have reached a crisis point because local government can no longer raise enough revenue through property taxes to pay for the costs of needed services, the report says. And federal support to state and local governments has fallen from 11 percent of the 1979 federal budget to 5 percent in 1989.

The OTA says user and developer fees and tax hikes earmarked for specific purposes ``have proven to be relatively reliable and politically acceptable revenue sources.''

The report also says many localities will be unable to comply with existing environmental standards unless the federal government creates an assistance fund.

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