Once called the “Good Road State,” North Carolina now ranks near the bottom in most road performance measures, such as congestion and disrepair. At the same time, North Carolina’s transportation taxes are among the highest in the Southeast, with nearly fifty cents per gallon of gas going to state and federal motor fuels taxes. North Carolina’s transportation woes can be summed up in three words – traffic, neglect and waste.
Just as important, the current system is unfair. Localities with shrinking populations (and less vehicle traffic) continue to receive disproportionate resources under the state’s equity formula while congested areas remain underfunded. The result is that rural citizens are being taxed to pay for expensive new projects when what they really need is better maintenance on existing roads. Likewise, urban citizens are being forced to subsidize light-rail boondoggles when what they really want are more practical solutions (busways, expressways and loops) that would reduce commute times and gridlock. Throughout it all, the waste and corruption continue, with inefficient projects often going to the head of the line for political reasons.
The growing disconnect between transportation spending and performance underscores the need to bring real reform to a failed system. The facts speak for themselves:
- Neighboring South Carolina’s overall road performance ranks 2nd nationally, while North Carolina ranks 31st.
- North Carolina has 2,365 structurally deficient bridges – worse than 37 other states.
- A recent $2.5 million, 400-plus page report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company concluded that the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is too political. Also, the study indicates managers waste time and priority construction projects are delayed.
- Between 1990 and 2003, $2.5 billion – the same as the maintenance shortfall – was spent on transportation projects that cost more than twice the state average, 5.3 cents per vehicle-mile.
- Since 1989, legislators have diverted $5.39 billion from the Highway Trust Fund. Some of this money was used to pay for transportation projects outside of the fund’s proper scope; billions more – some of which was authorized under the original HTF statutory language, and some not – have been used to supplement General Fund spending on other items.
- In 2007 alone, three transportation officials were convicted on public corruption charges.
- NCDOT’s chief financial officer claims the costs of a bungled $22.5 million dollar I-40 paving project were easy to absorb, suggesting significant waste within a bureaucracy that has become increasingly unaccountable.
A New Vision
Reforming North Carolina’s transportation system requires embracing a new vision – a vision for a 21st Century Good Roads State. In order to realize this vision, we need a transportation plan that will:
Prioritize – Make projected vehicle use, maintenance and safety the state’s top transportation priorities.
Localize – Encourage counties to take control of their own transportation needs and budgets.
Streamline – Increase efficiency, eliminate waste and save taxpayers money.
Reform – Bring accountability, transparency and fairness to the transportation decision-making process.