TRIP REPORT: NORTH CAROLINA MOTORISTS LOSE $10.3 BILLION PER YEAR ON ROADS THAT ARE ROUGH, CONGESTED & LACK SOME SAFETY FEATURES

NEARLY $2,000 PER DRIVER IN SOME URBAN AREAS. LACK OF FUNDING WILL LEAD TO FURTHER DETERIORATION, INCREASED CONGESTION AND HIGHER COSTS TO MOTORISTS

Roads and bridges that are deteriorated, congested or lack some desirable safety features cost North Carolina motorists a total of $10.3 billion statewide annually – as much as $1,976 per driver in some urban areas – due to higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays. Increased investment in transportation improvements at the local, state and federal levels could relieve traffic congestion, improve road, bridge and transit conditions, boost safety, and support long-term economic growth in North Carolina, according to a new report released today by TRIP, a Washington, DC based national transportation research nonprofit . 

The TRIP report, North Carolina Transportation by the Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe, Smooth and Efficient Mobility,” finds that throughout North Carolina, one-third of major locally and state-maintained roads are in poor or mediocre condition, nine percent of locally and state-maintained bridges (20 feet or more in length) are rated poor/structurally deficient, and 7,051 people lost their lives on the state’s roads from 2015-2019. North Carolina’s major urban roads are becoming increasingly congested, causing significant delays and choking commuting and commerce. 

Driving on deficient North Carolina roads costs the state’s drivers $10.3 billion per year in the form of extra vehicle operating costs (VOC) as a result of driving on roads in need of repair, lost time and fuel due to congestion-related delays, and the costs of traffic crashes in which the lack of adequate roadway features likely were a contributing factor. The report includes regional pavement and bridge conditions, a list of the most congested corridors, highway safety data, and cost breakdowns for the Asheville, Charlotte Metro, Raleigh-Durham, Triad and Wilmington urban areas and statewide. A breakdown of the costs per motorist in the state’s largest urban areas, along with a statewide total, is below.

The TRIP report finds that 14 percent of major locally and state-maintained roads in North Carolina are in poor condition and another 23 percent are in mediocre condition, costing the state’s motorists an additional $3.8 billion each year in extra vehicle operating costs, including accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear. Twenty-four percent of North Carolina’s major roads are in fair condition and the remaining 40 percent are in good condition.

Nine percent of North Carolina’s bridges are rated poor/structurally deficient, with significant deterioration to the bridge deck, supports or other major components. Fifty-two percent are rated in fair condition and the remaining 39 percent are in good condition. 

North Carolina Transportation by the Numbers shows exactly how high the costs of inadequate highway infrastructure have become for the average North Carolinian and for the residents of our major metro areas,” said Gary Salamido, president and CEO of the NC Chamber. “The evidence in this report leads to a clear conclusion: Our leaders have an opportunity to enact bold transportation legislation in 2021, or the costs will continue to pile up for North Carolina. The NC Chamber and our Destination 2030 coalition stand ready to support our legislative partners in identifying and activating solutions.”

Traffic congestion throughout the state is worsening, causing as much as 48 annual hours of delay for the average motorist and costing up to $1,050 per driver annually in lost time and wasted fuel. Statewide, drivers lose $3.3 billion annually as a result of lost time and wasted fuel due to traffic congestion.

Traffic crashes in North Carolina claimed the lives 7,051 people from 2015 to 2019. North Carolina’s overall traffic fatality rate of 1.12 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2019 is slightly higher than the national average of 1.11.  The financial impact of traffic crashes in which the lack of adequate roadway safety features were likely a contributing factor was $3.2 billion statewide. 

The efficiency and condition of North Carolina’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the health of the state’s economy. Annually, $672 billion in goods are shipped to and from North Carolina, relying heavily on the state’s network of roads and bridges. Increasingly, companies are looking at the quality of a region’s transportation system when deciding where to re-locate or expand. Regions with congested or poorly maintained roads may see businesses relocate to areas with a smoother, more efficient and more modern transportation system. Approximately 1.9 million full-time jobs in North Carolina in key industries like tourism, retail sales, agriculture and manufacturing are dependent on the quality, safety and reliability of the state’s transportation infrastructure network.

A lack of sufficient funding at the local, state and federal levels will make it difficult to adequately maintain and improve the state’s existing transportation system. The reduction in vehicle travel during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on transportation revenue. According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, highway revenue for Fiscal Year 2020, which ended June 30, is down $188 million. According to a NC Chamber Foundation report, the state’s existing transportation revenues are inadequate to maintain, let alone improve, the deteriorating system. The report concludes that the state’s existing motor fuels tax does not provide sufficient revenue, largely as a result of changes in driver behavior and increasing vehicle fuel efficiency. It recommends the implementation of a road user charge program, phasing out the motor fuels tax, adjusting the highway use tax to a competitive rate, and dedicating a fraction of the statewide sales tax to transportation investment. A recent report by the NC FIRST Commission found that North Carolina’s highway, aviation, rail, ferry, transit, bike and pedestrian facilities are a “deteriorating and underperforming system.”  The report concluded that providing North Carolina with a transportation network that will ensure the state’s economic vitality, competitiveness and safety would require that North Carolina increase its current $5 billion annual transportation investment by a minimum of $2 billion annually — $20 billion over the next decade.

“These conditions are only going to get worse, increasing the additional costs to motorists, if greater investment is not made available at the federal, state and local levels of government,” said Dave Kearby, TRIP’s executive director. “Without adequate funding, North Carolina’s transportation system will become increasingly deteriorated and congested, hampering economic growth, safety and quality of life.”

photo credit: Timothy Mainiero.

NORTH CAROLINA KEY TRANSPORTATION FACTS 

THE HIDDEN COSTS OF DEFICIENT ROADS

Driving on North Carolina roads that are deteriorated, congested and that lack some desirable safety features costs North Carolina drivers a total of $10.3 billion each year. TRIP has calculated the cost to the average motorist in the state’s largest urban areas in the form of additional vehicle operating costs (VOC) as a result of driving on rough roads, the cost of lost time and wasted fuel due to congestion, and the financial cost of traffic crashes. The chart below shows the cost of deficient roads statewide and for the average driver in the state’s largest urban areas. 

NORTH CAROLINA ROADS PROVIDE A ROUGH RIDE

Due to inadequate state and local funding, more than one-third of major roads and highways in North Carolina are in poor or mediocre condition – approximately 8,400 miles. Driving on rough roads costs the average North Carolina driver $500 annually in additional vehicle operating costs – a total of $3.8 billion statewide.  The chart below details pavement conditions on major roads in the state’s largest urban areas and statewide.

NORTH CAROLINA BRIDGE CONDITIONS

Nine percent of North Carolina’s bridges are rated in poor/structurally deficient condition, meaning there is significant deterioration of the bridge deck, supports or other major components. Fifty-two percent of the state’s bridges are rated in fair condition and the remaining 39 percent are in good condition. Most bridges are designed to last 50 years before major overhaul or replacement, although many newer bridges are being designed to last 75 years or longer. In North Carolina, 38 percent of the state’s bridges were built in 1969 or earlier. The chart below details bridge conditions statewide and in the state’s largest urban areas.

NORTH CAROLINA ROADS ARE INCREASINGLY CONGESTED

In 2019, the state’s transportation system carried 122 billion annual vehicle miles of travel (VMT), a 37 percent increase since 2000 and the fifth highest increase nationwide. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, vehicle travel in North Carolina dropped by as much as 38 percent in April 2020 (as compared to vehicle travel during the same month the previous year), but rebounded to four percent below the previous year’s volume in October 2020. Congested roads choke commuting and commerce and cost North Carolina drivers $3.3 billion each year in the form of lost time and wasted fuel. In the most congested urban areas, drivers lose up to $1,050 and spend as many as 48 hours per year sitting in congestion. The chart below shows the annual number of hours lost to congestion per driver and the average cost per driver of lost time and wasted fuel due to congestion in the state’s largest urban areas.

NORTH CAROLINA TRAFFIC SAFETY AND FATALITIES

From 2015 to 2019, 7,051 people were killed in traffic crashes in North Carolina.   In 2019, North Carolina had 1.12 traffic fatalities for every 100 million miles traveled, slightly higher than the national average of 1.11. The traffic fatality rate on North Carolina’s rural, non-Interstate roadways in 2018 was approximately three times higher than on all other roads (2.28 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel vs. 0.75) and the ninth highest rate in the nation.  

Traffic crashes imposed a total of $9.7 billion in economic costs in North Carolina in 2018 and traffic crashes in which a lack of adequate roadway safety features were likely a contributing factor imposed $3.2 billion in economic costs.  The chart below shows the number of people killed in traffic crashes in the state’s largest urban areas between 2015 and 2019, and the cost of traffic cashes per driver. 

TRANSPORTATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The health and future growth of North Carolina’s economy is riding on its transportation system. Each year, $672 billion in goods are shipped to and from sites in North Carolina, mostly by trucks.  Increases in passenger and freight movement will place further burdens on the state’s already deteriorated and congested network of roads and bridges.  The value of freight shipped to and from sites in North Carolina, in inflation-adjusted dollars, is expected to increase 104 percent by 2045 and by 82 percent for goods shipped by trucks.

A recent report from the NC Chamber Foundation and N.C. State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) found that from 2001 to 2016 the number of North Carolina businesses within one mile of major highway improvements increased by 73 percent, 48 percent higher than in regions within one mile of NC highways that did not receive improvements.  The number of jobs in North Carolina regions within one mile of major highway improvements increased by 35 percent from 2001 to 2016 – 16 percent higher than in regions within one mile of highways that did not receive major improvements.  

According to a report by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the design, construction and maintenance of transportation infrastructure in North Carolina supports approximately 110,000 full-time jobs across all sectors of the state economy. These workers earn $3.7 billion annually. Approximately 1.9 million full-time jobs in North Carolina in key industries like tourism, retail sales, agriculture and manufacturing are completely dependent on the state’s transportation network.

NORTH CAROLINA TRANSPORTATION FUNDING

Investment in North Carolina’s roads, highways and bridges is funded by local, state and federal governments. A lack of sufficient funding at all levels will make it difficult to adequately maintain and improve the state’s existing transportation system. 

The reduction in vehicle travel during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on transportation revenue. According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, highway revenue for Fiscal Year 2020, which ended June 30, is down $188 million.

According to the NC Chamber Foundation report, the state’s existing transportation revenues are inadequate to maintain, let alone improve, the deteriorating system. The report concludes that the state’s existing motor fuels tax does not provide sufficient revenue, largely as a result of changes in driver behavior and increasing vehicle fuel efficiency. It recommends the implementation of a road user charge program, phasing out the motor fuels tax, adjusting the highway use tax to a competitive rate, and dedicating a fraction of the statewide sales tax to transportation investment.

report released in January 2021 by the NC FIRST Commission, established to advise the state’s Secretary of Transportation in the formation of a sustainable long-range investment strategy, found that North Carolina’s highway, aviation, rail, ferry, transit, bike and pedestrian facilities are a “deteriorating and underperforming system.”  The report concluded that providing North Carolina with a transportation network that will ensure the state’s economic vitality, competitiveness and safety would require that North Carolina increase its current $5 billion annual transportation investment by a minimum of $2 billion annually — $20 billion over the next decade.

The current federal transportation legislation, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), was set to expire on September 30, 2020. Congress extended it by one year to September 30, 2021. The FAST Act is a major source of funding for road, highway and bridge repairs in North Carolina. Throughout the FAST-Act – fiscal years 2016 to 2021 – the program provided $6.7 billion to North Carolina for road repairs and improvements, an average of $1.1 billion per year.

Sources of information for this report include the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the U.S. Census Bureau, the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), the NC Chamber Foundation, the Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE), the NC FIRST Commission, and the ). Cover photo credit: Timothy Mainiero.