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Eastern N.C. cities should focus on congestion relief

New report grades Goldsboro, Rocky Mount plans

Contact: Prof. David Hartgen
704-687-5917
dthartge@email.uncc.edu

March 19, 2007

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RALEIGH – Goldsboro earns one of the best grades in the state for its efforts to fight traffic congestion, according to a new Policy Report from the John Locke Foundation and Reason Foundation. The same report says Rocky Mount has more work to do.

Goldsboro earns an A- grade in the new report, while Rocky Mount earns a B. Among the state’s 17 metropolitan regions, only Asheville and Jacksonville matched Goldsboro’s A- grade. Rocky Mount’s B grade ties that region for eighth place among the 17 metro areas. In contrast, Charlotte earned a D, the state’s worst grade.

“As now written, the Goldsboro long-range transportation plan stands a good chance of reducing congestion in the region,” said study author David Hartgen, Professor of Transportation Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “The plan has no major transit component that drains away needed funds. On the other hand, the balance between funds needed and available leaves no room for error in costs, an unlikely situation. The congestion management plan does not discuss other actions that might assist in traffic delay reduction. Therefore our recommendations are intended to strengthen an already generally adequate effort.”

Rocky Mount seems well positioned to deal with increasing congestion, but the region still has some hurdles to overcome, Hartgen said. “The plan does not contain, in total, enough funds to fund all the projects that would be needed to significantly deal with congestion,” he said. “Therefore, either project priorities need to be re-aligned or more funds found. A lesser but important concern is the apparent lack of a regional traffic forecasting model that would allow for evaluation of individual projects.”

Congestion in North Carolina will more than double over the next 25 years, Hartgen said. “Charlotte drivers will face the same type of traffic delays Chicago drivers face now. Raleigh’s delay will nearly double, to present-day Minneapolis levels. Even smaller cities like Rocky Mount will see a significant increase in traffic delays.”

State and local planners are not targeting enough transportation dollars toward reducing those delays, said Hartgen, a JLF adjunct policy analyst. “That increased congestion threatens the state’s economic future,” he said. “Yet many regions have ignored the problem and propose spending limited transportation funds on ineffective projects that will not likely affect congestion.”

The new study builds on a 2006 report Hartgen prepared for the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1968 that advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.

The Reason report showed traffic delays would increase by 65 percent across the United States by 2030. North Carolina needs to spend $12.4 billion to clear congested urban roads and prepare for traffic growth in the next 25 years, according to that report.

For his new report, Hartgen reviewed more than 1,300 specific transportation projects planned for each North Carolina region’s transportation plan. Hartgen evaluated each project based on its likely impact on congestion relief, then compared that impact to the congestion growth forecast for the region.

North Carolina does not need new funding to address the congestion problem, Hartgen said. “The report recommends using existing planned funds for congestion relief,” he said. “In some cities, ‘balance’ in transportation funding needs to be redefined. Instead of saying that transit programs should get 20-50 percent of funds, modes of transportation should get funds in proportion to their demand.”

Hartgen’s report offers nearly 20 recommendations for the state and many more targeted recommendations for the Goldsboro and Rocky Mount regions. Goldsboro proposed to spend $945 million in 25 years, including $34 million (3.6 percent) for transit projects. Transit’s share of regional commuting is just 0.4 percent. Goldsboro recommendations include: increasing attention to intersection treatments; revisiting the impact of not getting one or more bypasses; moving up the signal system priority; and resisting major transit expansion.

Rocky Mount proposes to spend $323 million over 25 years. Hartgen’s recommendations include: implementing the signal optimization project; investigating intersection treatments; prioritizing major projects; exploring an employer and residential-based ridesharing program; and estimating congestion impacts of existing transportation plans.

The statewide proposals include: changing the highway distribution formulas to account for congestion; appointing “congestion tsars” and establishing congestion reduction programs for each region; using innovative highway and intersection designs; increasing the weight placed on congestion in selecting projects; implementing flex-time, ridesharing, and work-at-home programs; removing bottlenecks; improving intersection turns and signal systems; expanding incident management programs; using tolls and public-private partnerships; and planning land use and transportation capacity jointly.

The state cannot afford to ignore growing congestion problems, Hartgen said. “North Carolina is not generally recognized as one of the most congested states, but it is,” he said. “My recent national assessment ranked North Carolina 48th among the 50 states in urban interstate congestion.”

“Pulled by competing priorities, many communities appear to be focusing largely on other objectives and are de-emphasizing the congestion problem,” Hartgen added. “Refocusing efforts on relieving congestion could have a major economic impact by saving travel time. The report estimates the value of travel time saved at about $855 million annually.”

David Hartgen’s Policy Report, "Traffic Congestion in North Carolina: Status, Prospects, and Solutions," is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Hartgen at (704) 687-5917 or dthartge@email.uncc.edu. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or mkokai@johnlocke.org.

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