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An increase in the state fuel tax was a funding source recommended by presenters at Tuesday's North Dakota Associations of Counties conference to help pay for the future construction and maintenance of county roads and bridges.

"It's happened in 26 states, it can happen here," said Russ Hanson, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of North Dakota. "We need to come together and have those discussions."

The highway tax distribution fund is a major source in funding the construction and maintenance of county roads, in addition to one-time state funding, federal funds and property tax dollars.

"We can't maintain the roads that we have, in the condition that we have, with this sort of funding structure," said Terry Traynor, assistant director of policy and programs of the North Dakota Association of Counties. "We really need to start the conversation, locally and with our legislators, about where we are going to go from here."

A study conducted by the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute proves a "dramatic improvement" in the overall condition of the state's paved roads in years where one-time state funds were used for infrastructure improvements, Traynor said.

"Frankly, these roads are tremendously important to the energy sector, the ag sector, manufacturing and everything in the state of North Dakota," he said. "When you give money to the local government for roads, they put it to good use. They (legislators) are not just throwing money in the wind. It's made a difference." 

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The average American logs 12,000 miles per year, averaging 23.6 miles to the gallon, and burns through 508 gallons of gas annually. Given those statistics, provided by Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, an average American pays $256 in fuel taxes per year.

In comparison, an average American spends $600 annually for a mobile phone and $840 annually for cable television.

"(Fuel taxes) provide a lot more benefits to us on a daily basis," Steenhoek said. "The public is going to give up a tangible cost, but they are going to be provided a tangible benefit. I think you'll find public resistance dissipate."

In addition to an increase in the state fuel tax to fund future projects, presenters and county officials discussed an increase to the federal fuel tax, indexing the fuel tax to inflation, charging an electric vehicle fee and increasing fees for license and registration. 

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