North Carolina’s current level of transportation funding will not be enough to make needed improvements to the state’s transportation system to accommodate current and future levels of population, travel and economic growth. This is according to a new report by TRIP, a Washington, DC based national transportation organization. Over the next decade, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) will have funds available for only 17 percent of needed transportation projects.
The TRIP report, “Keeping North Carolina Mobile: Progress and Challenges in Providing an Efficient, Safe and Well-Maintained Transportation System,” examines road and bridge conditions, travel trends, economic development, highway safety and transportation funding. Since 2000, the state’s population has grown 26 percent and is projected to increase another 20 percent by 2035. Vehicle miles of travel (VMT) in North Carolina increased 29 percent from 2000 to 2016 — the ninth highest rate of growth nationally. And, from just 2013 to 2016, VMT in North Carolina has increased by 10 percent. VMT in North Carolina is projected to increase another 25 percent by 2030.
Eighteen percent of North Carolina’s major locally and state-maintained urban roads and highways have pavements in poor condition and 26 percent are rated in mediocre condition. Twenty-two percent of the state’s major urban roads are rated in fair condition and the remaining 34 percent are rated in good condition. Long-term repair costs increase significantly when road and bridge maintenance is deferred, as road and bridge deterioration accelerates later in the service life of a transportation facility and requires more costly repairs. Every $1 of deferred maintenance on roads and bridges costs an additional $4 to $5 in needed future repairs.
Ten percent of North Carolina’s bridges are structurally deficient, meaning there is significant deterioration to the major components of the bridge.
“North Carolina has consistently topped the charts as one of the most competitive states for business. That has not happened by accident,” said Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber. “Our state’s leaders have been busy investing in our transportation network to meet the current and growing demands of a dynamic state economy. However, to retain current investments and attract new jobs, investments and expansions, North Carolina leaders must continue to find ways to diversify our revenue streams in order to fund the network for the future.”
Increasing levels of traffic congestion cause significant delays in North Carolina, particularly in its larger urban areas, choking commuting and commerce.
Traffic crashes in North Carolina claimed the lives of 6,668 people between 2012 and 2016, an average of 1,334 fatalities per year. The number of traffic fatalities in the state increased four percent from 2015 to 2016. North Carolina’s overall traffic fatality rate of 1.23 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is higher than the national average of 1.13. The traffic fatality rate on North Carolina’s non-Interstate rural roads was more than four times higher than on all other roads and highways in the state in 2015 – 2.69 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel compared to 0.65. The 2015 national rural non-Interstate fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is 2.14.
NCDOT received requests from state and regional transportation agencies for $53 billion in needed road, highway and bridge projects for inclusion in the 2018-2027 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) but only had funding available to include $9 billion (17 percent) of projects in the 2018-2027 STIP.
NCDOT’s annual 2016 maintenance and performance report found that the Department is currently spending $1.3 billion annually on repairing its roads, highways and bridges, but should be spending a minimum of $1.6 billion annually. Ideally, NCDOT should be spending $1.9 billion annually to improve the condition of its roads, highway and bridges.
“With an already large transportation funding shortfall, North Carolina is poised to see increasingly deteriorated and congested roads in the future,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP. “Additional transportation funding will allow the state to move forward with dozens of needed projects that will provide a smoother, safer and more efficient transportation system for drivers, and allow the state’s businesses to maintain and expand their competitive edge.”
KEEPING NORTH CAROLINA MOBILE:
Progress and Challenges in Providing an Efficient, Safe and Well-Maintained Transportation System
An efficient, safe and well-maintained transportation system is critical to a region’s economic growth and quality of life. North Carolina has taken positive steps in increasing the level and effectiveness of its transportation investment, but must go further to ensure that the Tar Heel State gains the benefit of a modern 21st Century transportation system.
North Carolina’s transportation system provides economic and social benefits by affording individuals access to employment, housing, healthcare, education, goods and services, recreation, entertainment, family, and social activities. It also provides businesses with access to suppliers, markets and employees, all critical to a business’ level of productivity and ability to expand. Reduced accessibility and mobility – as a result of traffic congestion, a lack of adequate capacity, or deteriorated roads, highways, bridges and transit facilities – diminishes a region’s quality of life by reducing economic productivity and limiting opportunities for economic, health or social transactions and activities.
With population and employment growing steadily, North Carolina must continue to improve its transportation system to foster economic growth and maintain and attract business. In addition to economic growth, transportation improvements are needed to ensure safe, reliable mobility. Meeting North Carolina’s need to further modernize its transportation system will require significant local, state and federal funding.
While the state’s transportation funding will experience modest increases in future years as a result of additional state and federal funds, numerous transportation projects in the state — which are needed to improve conditions, relieve traffic congestion, improve roadway safety and enhance economic development opportunities — remain unfunded, threatening North Carolina’s future progress in providing a safe, efficient, well-maintained transportation system.
NORTH CAROLINA POPULATION, ECONOMIC AND TRAVEL GROWTH
Population and economic growth have placed increased demands on North Carolina’s major roads and highways, leading to mounting wear and tear on the state’s extensive transportation system.
- From 2000 to 2016, North Carolina’s population increased by 26 percent, from approximately 8 million residents to approximately 10.1 million. North Carolina had approximately 7.2 million licensed drivers in 2015, a 26 percent increase since 2000.
- By 2035, the state’s population is expected to increase by another 2 million people to 12.1 million.
- Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in North Carolina increased 29 percent from 2000 to 2016 – from 89.5 billion VMT in 2000 to 115.4 billion VMT in 2016 – the ninth highest rate of increase in the U.S. during this period.
- Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in North Carolina increased 10 percent –from 2013 to 2016, the twelfth highest rate of increase in the U.S. during this period.
- From 2000 to 2015, North Carolina’s gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the state’s economic output, increased by 30 percent, when adjusted for inflation. The national level of increase during this period was 27 percent.
- Based on population and other lifestyle trends, TRIP projects that travel on North Carolina’s roads and highways will increase by another 25 percent by 2030.
- The current value of the 163,000 lane miles and 13,455 bridges maintained by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is $575 billion.
TRANSPORTATION FUNDING IN NORTH CAROLINA
While 2015 legislation provided a modest increase in state transportation funding and legislation approved in 2013 improved project selection criteria to insure that the most needed projects are funded, the state faces significant challenges in providing a safe, well-maintained transportation system in North Carolina.
- Approval of the 2013 State Transportation Investment law improved project selection criteria by implementing a data-driven selection process that insures that the most needed and beneficial projects are chosen.
- The passage of HB 97 by the state legislature in September of 2015 provided approximately an additional $1.6 billion over 10 years for transportation improvements.
- The 2015 funding increase was achieved by eliminating transfers from the Highway Fund to the General Fund, raising Division of Motor Vehicle fees (with quadrennial adjustments for inflation on certain fees), increasing the state Highway Use Tax on out-of-state motor vehicle purchases, eliminating an environmental cleanup fund, and allowing municipalities to increase their vehicle sales tax.
- Further increases in vehicle fuel efficiency and hybrid and electric vehicle use may reduce the ability of federal and state motor fuel taxes to raise future transportation revenues.
- Over the next decade, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is only able to fund 17 percent of the transportation projects needed to relieve traffic congestion, support economic development, improve traffic safety and improve the conditions of state roads, highways and bridges.
- NCDOT received requests from state and regional transportation agencies for $53 billion in needed road, highway and bridge projects for inclusion in their 2018-2027 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) but only had funding available to include $9 billion (17 percent) of projects in their 2018-2027 STIP.
- NCDOT’s annual 2016 maintenance and performance report found that the Department is currently spending $1.3 billion annually on repairing its roads, highways and bridges, but should be spending a minimum of $1.6 billion annually. Ideally NCDOT should be spending $1.9 billion annually to improve the condition of its roads, highway and bridges.
PAVEMENT CONDITIONS IN NORTH CAROLINA
A lack of adequate state and local funding has resulted in 44 percent of locally and state-maintained urban roads in North Carolina having pavement surfaces in poor or mediocre condition, providing a rough ride and costing motorist in the form of additional vehicle operating costs.
- The pavement data in this report, which is for all arterial and collector roads and highways, is provided by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), based on data submitted annually by NCDOT on the condition of major state and locally maintained roads and highways.
- Pavement data for Interstate highways and other principal arterials is collected for all system mileage, whereas pavement data for minor arterial and all collector roads and highways is based on sampling portions of roadways as prescribed by FHWA to ensure that the data collected is adequate to provide an accurate assessment of pavement conditions on these roads and highways.
- Eighteen percent of North Carolina’s major locally and state-maintained urban roads and highways have pavements in poor condition and 26 percent are rated in mediocre condition. Twenty-two percent of major urban roads are in fair condition and the remaining 34 percent are rated in good condition.
- Overall, 13 percent of North Carolina’s major locally and state-maintained roads and highways have pavements in poor condition and 23 percent are rated in mediocre condition. Twenty-one percent of the state’s major roads are rated in fair condition and the remaining 43 percent are rated in good condition.
- Roads rated in poor condition may show signs of deterioration, including rutting, cracks and potholes. In some cases, poor roads can be resurfaced, but often are too deteriorated and must be reconstructed.
- The chart below details pavement conditions on major, locally and state-maintained roads and highways in the state’s largest urban areas:
- Long-term repair costs increase significantly when road and bridge maintenance is deferred, as road and bridge deterioration accelerates later in the service life of a transportation facility and requires more costly repairs. A report on maintaining pavements found that every $1 of deferred maintenance on roads and bridges costs an additional $4 to $5 in needed future repairs.
CONGESTION LEVELS IN NORTH CAROLINA
Increasing levels of traffic congestion cause significant delays in North Carolina, particularly in the state’s larger urban areas, choking commuting and commerce. Traffic congestion robs commuters of time and money and imposes increased costs on businesses, shippers and manufacturers, which are often passed along to the consumer.
- Increasing levels of congestion add significant costs to consumers, transportation companies, manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers and can reduce the attractiveness of a location to a company to consider expansion or even to locate a new facility. Congestion costs can also increase overall operating costs for trucking and shipping companies, leading to revenue losses, lower pay for drivers and employees, and higher consumer costs.
- The chart below details the number of hours the average driver loses annually and the total amount of fuel wasted annually due to congestion in the state’s largest urban areas.
NORTH CAROLINA BRIDGE CONDITIONS
One in ten locally and state-maintained bridges in North Carolina show significant deterioration and are in need of repair. This includes all bridges that are 20 feet or more in length.
- Ten percent of North Carolina’s locally and state-maintained bridges are structurally deficient. A bridge is structurally deficient if there is significant deterioration of the bridge deck, supports or other major components. Structurally deficient bridges are often posted for lower weight or closed to traffic, restricting or redirecting large vehicles, including commercial trucks and emergency services vehicles.
- The chart below details the total number of bridges and share of structurally deficient bridges in North Carolina’s largest urban areas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY IN NORTH CAROLINA
Improving safety features on the state’s roads and highways would likely result in a decrease in traffic fatalities and serious crashes.
- Between 2012 and 2016, 6,668 people were killed in traffic crashes in North Carolina, an average of 1,334 fatalities per year.
- The number of traffic fatalities in North Carolina in 2016 increased by four percent from the previous year, increasing from 1,387 traffic fatalities in 2015 to 1,440 in 2016.
- North Carolina’s overall traffic fatality rate of 1.23 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2015 is significantly higher than the national average of 1.13.
- The traffic fatality rate on North Carolina’s non-Interstate rural roads in 2015 was more than four times higher than on all other roads and highways in the state – 2.69 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel compared to 0.65. The 2015 national rural non-Interstate fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is 2.14.
- The chart below details the average number of fatalities from 2013 to 2015 in the state’s largest urban areas.
- Several factors are associated with vehicle crashes that result in fatalities, including driver behavior, vehicle characteristics and roadway features.
- Where appropriate, highway improvements can reduce traffic fatalities and crashes while improving traffic flow to help relieve congestion. Such improvements include removing or shielding obstacles; adding or improving medians; improved lighting; adding rumble strips, wider lanes, wider and paved shoulders; upgrading roads from two lanes to four lanes; and better road markings and traffic signals.
- Investments in rural traffic safety have been found to result in significant reductions in serious traffic crashes. A 2012 report by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) found that improvements completed recently by the Texas Department of Transportation that widened lanes, improved shoulders and made other safety improvements on 1,159 miles of rural state roadways resulted in 133 fewer fatalities on these roads in the first three years after the improvements were completed (as compared to the three years prior). TTI estimates that the improvements on these roads are likely to save 880 lives over 20 years.
TRANSPORTATION AND ECONOMIC GROWTH IN NORTH CAROLINA
The efficiency of North Carolina’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the state’s economy. Businesses are increasingly reliant on an efficient and reliable transportation system to move products and services. A key component in business efficiency and success is the level and ease of access to customers, markets, materials and workers.
- Annually, $704 billion in goods are shipped to and from sites in North Carolina, with 84 percent of the freight tonnage being shipped by trucks.
- Businesses have responded to improved communications and greater competition by moving from a push-style distribution system, which relies on low-cost movement of bulk commodities and large-scale warehousing, to a pull-style distribution system, which relies on smaller, more strategic and time-sensitive movement of goods.
- 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.
- An analysis of the planned completion of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway to form part of I-74 found that it would result in an additional $135 million annually in additional economic output in Forsyth County and an additional $135 million annually in additional economic output in Davidson, Davie, Guilford, Randolph, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties.
- Highway accessibility was ranked the number two site selection factor behind only the availability of skilled labor in a 2015 survey of corporate executives by Area Development Magazine.
- TheFederal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements results in an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, reduced delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, reduced road and bridge maintenance costs and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.
BENEFITS OF TRANSPORTATION IMPROVEMENTS
According to a 2012 national report, improved access as a result of capacity expansions provides numerous regional economic benefits. Those benefits include higher employment rates, higher land value, additional tax revenue, increased intensity of economic activity, increased land prices and additional construction as a result of the intensified use.
- The report, “Interactions Between Transportation Capacity, Economic Systems and Land Use,” prepared by the Strategic Highway Research Program for the Transportation Research Board, reviewed 100 projects, costing a minimum of $10 million, which expanded transportation capacity either to relieve congestion or enhance access.
- The projects analyzed in the report were completed no later than 2005 and included a wide variety of urban and rural projects, including the expansion or addition of major highways, beltways, connectors, bypasses, bridges, interchanges, industrial access roads, intermodal freight terminals and intermodal passenger terminals.
- The expanded capacity provided by the projects resulted in improved access, which contributed to reduced travel-related costs, faster and more reliable travel, and increased travel volume.
- The report found that improved transportation access benefits a region by: enhancing the desirability of an area for living, working or recreating, thus increasing its land value; increasing building construction in a region due to increased desirability for homes and businesses; increasing employment as a result of increased private and commercial land use; and, increasing tax revenue as a result of increased property taxes, increased employment and increased consumption, which increases sales tax collection.
- The report found that benefits of transportation capacity expansion unfolded over several years and that the extent of the benefits were impacted by other factors including: the presence of complementary infrastructure such as water, sewer and telecommunications; local land use policy; the local economic and business climate; and, whether the expanded capacity was integrated with other public investment and development efforts.
- For every $1 million spent on urban highway or intermodal expansion, the report estimated that an average of 7.2 local, long-term jobs were created at nearby locations as a result of improved access. An additional 4.4 jobs were created outside the local area, including businesses that supplied local businesses or otherwise benefited from the increased regional economic activity.
- For every $1 million spent on rural highway or intermodal expansion, the report estimated that an average of 2.9 local, long-term jobs were created at nearby locations as a result of improved access. An additional 1.6 jobs were created outside the local area, including businesses that supplied local businesses or otherwise benefited from the increased regional economic activity.
- The report found that highway and intermodal capacity projects in urban areas created a greater number of long-term jobs than in rural areas, largely due to the more robust economic environment and greater density in urban communities.
- According to the 2015 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges and Transit: Conditions and Performance report submitted by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) to Congress, the nation faces an $836 billion backlog in needed repairs and improvements to the nation’s roads, highways and bridges.
- The USDOT report found that the nation’s current $105 billion investment in roads, highways and bridges by all levels of government should be increased by 35 percent to $142.5 billion annually to improve the conditions of roads, highways and bridges, relieve traffic congestion and improve traffic safety.
Sources of information for this report include the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the U. S. Census Bureau, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). All data used in the report are the most recent available.