9 Investigates: Lawmakers want change in how gas tax money is used

by: Blair Miller Updated:

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Right now, the cheapest gallon of gas you can find in the area is about $3.82.

When you fill up in North Carolina, 39 cents from every gallon goes to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Last year, the gas tax brought in $1.5 billion. The DOT admits it's their biggest source of revenue.

“That's the funds that we use fund all of our roads, our improvement,” said Barry Moose, the DOT engineer for the Charlotte area.

But Eyewitness News went through years of DOT financial records and found millions of gas tax dollars being spent on things that have nothing to do with road construction or improvement, like a planned parking deck in Davidson, hiking trails in Gastonia and a park at UNC Charlotte.

Near Charlotte's airport, construction is under way to build a hub to ship goods through a centralized rail line. Norfolk Southern will run it, not the DOT.

But the DOT is spending $3 million to construct the facility, and a good chunk of that comes from gas tax money.

Down the road, Peggy Smith has run the Dixie Grill for 12 years. She was not happy to hear gas tax money is being used on a building.

“Because that should be used to fix the road,” she said. “Let's start right out here.”

She showed Eyewitness News the road out front that's full of cracks. She was hoping the gas tax would help fix it.

“I've called the state several times and now they pretend like I'm not calling,” Smith said.

Eyewitness News also found the DOT routinely transferring money to the state's general fund, money that eventually was used for education, welfare and prisons -- not roads.

In the past five years, more than $559 million has been moved to the general fund.

State legislator Bill Brawley from Mecklenburg County is now looking into what Eyewitness News found and plans to ask the DOT his own questions about its use of the gas tax.

“My sense is this: Road money is not slush money. It's road money,” Brawley said. “You're taxing people for roads -- spend the money on roads.”

Eyewitness News also took the research to Moose, the DOT engineer for the Charlotte area.

“Why is that important?” Eyewitness News anchor Blair Miller asked. “Like the trails -- why is that something the DOT should be funding?”

“Look at it like a complete network,” Moose said. “It's not just roads anymore. It's roads, it's rail, it's buses (and) it's trails.”

Eyewitness News also asked about the millions of dollars transferred to the general fund.

“We're talking hundreds of millions of dollars over the years going to other state agencies -- how does that happen?” Miller asked.

“Well, it's the law,” Moose said.

He said state lawmakers created a law decades ago allowing the DOT to transfer money.

Brawley wasn't aware of that and said it must change.

“How big of a concern do you think this is?” Miller asked.

“Big enough to not ignore -- for me not to ignore,” Brawley said.

House Speaker Thom Tillis also weighed in on Eyewitness News’ investigation. He went as far to say that he plans to eliminate the DOT transferring money into the general fund.

He wants new rules that limit how much the DOT spends on projects with little impact on transportation.

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