Highways and Interstates
The "good roads" state is quickly turning into the "traffic congestion" state. Both rural and urban interstates are poorly maintained and congested (see Figures 1 and 2 below).
One reason for the deterioration of the state's roads is that the General Assembly has not dedicated all highway-related revenues to highway construction and maintenance. Since 1990, a total of over $4 billion in proceeds from gas and car taxes have been spent on transit or General Fund programs (see Figure 4 below). While most of this transfer was originally intended to offset tax changes in the 1989 transportation bill, it is long past time that all gas and car taxes be dedicated to highway investment.
The legislature has ignored the politicized decision-making process at the Board of Transportation, which continues to misallocate road building funds based on political considerations, not documented transportation needs.
The General Assembly continues to allow the over-funding of public transit at the expense of roads. These failures have contributed to a deteriorating road system. The legislature must restore public confidence by spending highway user fees on highways, not on politicians' pet projects.
- While North Carolina's highway system ranks 21st of 50 states in overall performance, it ranks 42nd in urban interstate congestion (Figures 1 and 2 below).
- The state's urban interstate congestion ranking (42nd) is the worst among its competitor states in the Southeast (Figure 2 below).
- State officials have estimated North Carolina's highway needs at $50 billion to $70 billion over 25 years.
- For the first half of 2012, North Carolina's tax on gasoline was 39.2 cents per gallon (cpg). The 2012 budget bill adjusted and capped the rate at 37.5 cents. Both rates are the highest in our region (Figure 3 below shows the comparison for early 2012).
- Since 1990 the General Assembly has transferred more than $4 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund (Figure 4).
- Spending $8.2 billion in federal, state and local funds on rail transit in the Triangle that will carry less than one percent of the traveling public is a poor investment (see the Urban Rail Transit section).
- The state's huge financial investment in the Charlotte LYNX light rail system has not paid off in reduced traffic congestion or air pollution since this system carries only 0.07 percent of the motorized passenger miles in the metro area.
- Nationally, rail transit has been a wasteful diversion of highway funds from effective and efficient traffic congestion reducing projects. Of the 33 major U.S. cities with rail transit, only six carry more than one percent of the passenger miles in the area and 22 carry less than one-half of one percent. This costly record has failed, in many cases, to produce measurable reductions in traffic congestion or air pollution.
- Stop transferring funds from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund. While smaller amounts have been transferred recently, this practice diverts much-needed funds from highway construction and maintenance.
- Do not raise North Carolina's already-high gas tax. To make money available for high-priority road projects, the state should stop funding projects with low expected usage, and charge motorists directly for new limited-access highway lanes through electronic tolls.
- Institutionalize and extend the Governor's DOT reforms by reforming the highway formulas and apply them only at the legislated geographic level. In addition, increase competitive contracting, reduce and streamline DOT offices, and make the Board of Transportation's policies advisory and reduce its membership to five to seven members.
- End the disproportionate funding of mass transit. Transportation funding should be based on the way people actually travel, not on transit planners' attempts to use transit to reshape cities.
- End state funding of rail systems in the Triangle and Triad, and repeal the half-cent local-option sales tax authorization for rail transit. (See section on Urban Rail Transit)
Analyst: Dr. Michael Sanera
Director of Research and Local Government Studies
919-828-3876 • email@example.com