Prioritize – Vehicle usage, maintenance, and safety requirements should drive transportation planning.
Replace the equity distribution formula. This formula allocates funds statewide based on measures like population, regional “equity,” and the estimated number of unbuilt Intrastate System miles in each region. In practice the equity distribution formula amounts to underfunding for congested urban centers, excessive funding (and construction) for areas losing population, and statewide maintenance neglect. In short, we need to ensure drivers pay for what they use in roads, and put the money toward the roads they use.
Distribute funds based on projected vehicle-miles and maintenance. Instead of the equity formula, DOT should build and maintain the busiest roads first. The build-it-they-will-come approach – i.e., four-laning rural areas to “spur economic development” – has failed, leaving the state with too many roads it can neither afford to maintain, nor fill with commuters. Common sense dictates that the state use its resources to build and maintain the roads most North Carolinians actually use.
Eliminate funding for non-cost-effective projects. According to transportation expert Dr. David Hartgen, North Carolina could have saved $2.5 billion if it had not funded the 50 least cost-effective transportation projects built between 1990 and 2003. Eliminating projects that cost over a threshold of 5.3 cents-per-vehicle-mile traveled (twice the state average) would force planners to prioritize scarce transportation resources. Projects that exceed the cap would require specific statutory approval.
Make maintenance a top priority. North Carolina ranks lower than 40 other states in terms of maintenance disbursements per mile at $9,933 per mile. The mean among states is $19,615. North Carolina ranks 41st in percentage of rural interstates in poor condition, 39th in percentage of urban interstates in poor condition, and 41st in percentage of rural arterial roads in poor condition, according to the Reason Foundation. Before North Carolina undertakes costly new projects, it must reprioritize maintenance.
Choose busways over light rail. Busways are preferable to light rail lines because they are: more flexible in terms of routes and service, far less expensive, and more environmentally friendly. Indeed, transportation expert Randall O’Toole found that rail costs on average 5 times what a highway lane costs, but carries only 1/5 the number of people. Rural North Carolinians should be protected from having to bankroll expensive urban rail projects (which cost $25-$30 per rider, per round trip), just as urban citizens should not have to fund failed economic development projects, such as the Global Transpark.
Duplicating Success : Looking Outside for Good Ideas
Successful approaches in other states or countries can be used in North Carolina:
• Texas, California and Virginia have had success building or converting to High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes in high-volume areas.
• The UK has had great success with roundabouts (traffic circles), which also drastically reduce fatality rates due to accidents (A 2001 Transportation Research Board study of 23 intersections in the U.S. reported that converting signal- and sign intersections to roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 80 percent and all crashes by 40 percent).
• South Carolina makes maintenance high priority, which lands the state 2nd nationally in road performance.
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