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Increase Highway Budget

Locke report rates road needs, funding equity among N.C. counties

Contact: Staff
919-828-3876
info@johnlocke.org

March 19, 1999

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RALEIGH—North Carolina should spend an additional $410 million annually over the next seven years — without raising taxes — to get back on track in maintaining and expanding the state highway system, according to a new Policy Report published by the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh-based public policy think tank.

Road & Track: Putting Safety and Economics Before Politics in North Carolina Transportation presents the case that North Carolina’s traditional model of transportation policy — based on politics, and not need — has failed. Resources are diverted from heavily used roadways, typically in urban areas, to the proliferating number of small road projects, often the paving of dirt roads.

The authors of Road & Track are Michael Lowrey, an economist and former policy analyst at the Locke Foundation, and Jonathan C. Jordan, an attorney and director of research at the Locke Foundation.

In the report Lowrey and Jordan demonstrate that the current DOT backlog over the next seven years includes $95 million a year in maintenance needs, $10 million in bridge repair needs, and $305.1 million in TIP projects that are behind schedule.

“Despite the enormous backlog the state’s transportation system is facing, no new taxes are needed to meet these needs,” Lowrey and Jordan observe. “Instead, North Carolina’s policymakers should prioritize the items upon which we already spend $2.5 billion a year.”

The authors propose a number of savings that equal the $410 million annual backlog. Greatest among these are ending the $170 million transfer from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund and cutting in half the current rate of secondary road paving, which would save $75 million.

“Paving dirt roads, though popular with legislators who like to promise projects to their constituents, are no longer an efficient use of state transportation resources,” state Lowrey and Jordan. “The current standard to pave a dirt road is 50 cars a day — a very low hurdle representing just one car every 20 minutes from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. In fact, the number of homes per mile of paved secondary road in the state has dropped from almost 30 in 1990 to only 12 in 1997.”

To evaluate funding equity among North Carolina counties, Lowrey and Jordan also developed a “Highway Use Index” based on each county’s share of population, registered vehicles, and fuel pumps (a proxy for fuel usage and thus for fuel tax collections). Though not a perfect method to determine how much usage state roads receive from county to county, the Highway Use Index is an attempt to gauge road needs and priorities in a more complete manner than do current state DOT measurements.

From 1992 to 1996 urban counties in North Carolina received just over 60 percent of all DOT highway spending, according to the report. However, the Highway Use Index would have recommended 65.5 percent, based on the urban counties’ share of estimated highway usage.

“Spending among the seven DOT regions — which should be reorganized to better reflect the state’s economic regions, and not the current political hodgepodge — has also been out of line with what the Highway Use Index would have recommended,” the authors note. “Generally speaking, from 1992 to 1996 the counties in the northeastern and western parts of the state have been subsidized by the fast-growing counties of the Piedmont.”

Finally, the authors note that money collected from gasoline and motor vehicle taxes should be used for roads, and not other programs, including transit, which is not the answer to traffic problems. “Every dollar diverted from the DOT is a dollar that is not spent on road maintenance, obsolete bridge replacement, or street widening to meet the traffic demands of today and tomorrow,” state Lowrey and Jordan.

Copies of the 48-page report are available from the John Locke Foundation for $12.95 each, or free to members of the media. The Locke Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy think tank that studies state and local government issues in North Carolina.

Attached to this release are excerpts from the report that provide a county-by-county breakdown of DOT spending, the authors’ Highway Use Index, and the estimated “winning” and “losing” counties in funding allocation from 1992 to 1996.

For more information, call the Locke Foundation in Raleigh at (919) 828-3876 or view the website at www.johnlocke.org

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Share of DOT Spending by County vs.
Locke Highway Use Index, 1992-96 Highway 5-yr. DOT Use

County Spending Index Index Difference*
Alamance 2.01 1.71 0.30
Alexander 0.83 0.40 0.42
Alleghany 0.50 0.15 0.35
Anson 0.43 0.33 0.10
Ashe 0.63 0.33 0.30
Avery 0.29 0.23 0.07
Beaufort 0.68 0.64 0.04
Bertie 0.43 0.28 0.15
Bladen 0.53 0.45 0.08
Brunswick 1.41 0.87 0.54
Buncombe 2.23 2.66 -0.43
Burke 0.58 1.14 -0.57
Cabarrus 1.25 1.48 -0.22
Caldwell 0.93 1.05 -0.12
Camden 0.13 0.09 0.04
Carteret 0.84 0.91 -0.07
Caswell 0.40 0.28 0.12
Catawba 1.75 1.91 -0.16
Chatham 1.08 0.65 0.44
Cherokee 0.44 0.30 0.14
Chowan 0.21 0.19 0.01
Clay 0.26 0.12 0.14
Cleveland 0.72 1.28 -0.56
Columbus 0.67 0.74 -0.07
Craven 1.07 1.17 -0.10
Cumberland 1.71 3.73 -2.02
Currituck 0.83 0.26 0.57
Dare 0.65 0.50 0.15
Davidson 1.36 1.92 -0.56
Davie 0.51 0.47 0.04
Duplin 1.31 0.69 0.62
Durham 2.37 2.61 -0.24
Edgecombe 0.96 0.68 0.28
Forsyth 3.07 3.94 -0.88
Franklin 0.57 0.53 0.04
Gaston 1.76 2.34 -0.58
Gates 0.21 0.13 0.07
Graham 0.16 0.11 0.04
Granville 0.60 0.60 0.00
Greene 0.22 0.21 0.01
Guilford 5.04 5.23 -0.19
Halifax 0.76 0.85 -0.09
Harnett 0.67 1.00 -0.33
Haywood 1.52 0.72 0.80
Henderson 1.28 1.10 0.18
Hertford 0.43 0.34 0.09
Hoke 0.35 0.32 0.03
Hyde 0.22 0.08 0.14
Iredell 1.47 1.59 -0.12
Jackson 0.50 0.41 0.08
Johnston 1.56 1.55 0.02
Jones 0.22 0.14 0.08
Lee 0.29 0.66 -0.37
Lenoir 0.45 0.83 -0.38
Lincoln 0.78 0.79 -0.01
Macon 0.91 0.40 0.51
Madison 1.27 0.25 1.01
Martin 0.80 0.36 0.44
McDowell 0.95 0.53 0.42
Mecklenburg 9.35 7.56 1.80
Mitchell 0.31 0.22 0.09
Montgomery 0.75 0.36 0.39
Moore 0.61 0.93 -0.31
Nash 0.54 1.30 -0.76
New Hanover 1.00 1.91 -0.91
Northampton 0.55 0.30 0.25
Onslow 0.96 1.70 -0.74
Orange 1.46 1.19 0.27
Pamlico 0.20 0.17 0.03
Pasquotank 0.35 0.44 -0.09
Pender 0.58 0.40 0.17
Perquimans 0.42 0.15 0.27
Person 0.36 0.49 -0.13
Pitt 1.22 1.57 -0.35
Polk 0.70 0.23 0.47
Randolph 1.33 1.68 -0.36
Richmond 0.48 0.64 -0.17
Robeson 1.37 1.58 -0.21
Rockingham 1.50 1.27 0.22
Rowan 1.08 1.60 -0.52
Rutherford 0.79 0.81 -0.02
Sampson 0.76 0.72 0.05
Scotland 0.44 0.47 -0.03
Stanly 0.46 0.76 -0.29
Stokes 0.57 0.55 0.02
Surry 1.92 1.07 0.86
Swain 0.28 0.18 0.10
Transylvania 0.38 0.37 0.01
Tyrrell 0.13 0.06 0.07
Union 0.69 1.38 -0.69
Vance 0.45 0.63 -0.17
Wake 6.89 6.90 -0.01
Warren 0.32 0.24 0.08
Washington 0.23 0.22 0.01
Watauga 0.90 0.55 0.34
Wayne 0.71 1.43 -0.72
Wilkes 1.32 0.96 0.37
Wilson 0.71 1.01 -0.30
Yadkin 0.61 0.55 0.06
Yancey 0.26 0.23 0.03

* A negative sign means that the county received less of a share of total DOT spending from 1992-96 than the Locke Highway Use Index would indicate.

Difference Between DOT Spending and Locke Highway Use Index for 1992-96, by County

Losers:

County Difference*
Cumberland -2.02
New Hanover -0.91
Forsyth -0.88
Nash -0.76
Onslow -0.74
Wayne -0.72
Union -0.69
Gaston -0.58
Burke -0.57
Cleveland -0.56
Davidson -0.56
Rowan -0.52
Buncombe -0.43
Lenoir -0.38
Lee -0.37
Randolph -0.36
Pitt -0.35
Harnett -0.33
Moore -0.31
Wilson -0.30
Stanly -0.29
Durham -0.24
Cabarrus -0.22
Robeson -0.21
Guilford -0.19
Vance -0.17
Richmond -0.17
Catawba -0.16
Person -0.13
Caldwell -0.12
Iredell -0.12
Craven -0.10
Pasquotank -0.09
Halifax -0.09
Carteret -0.07
Columbus -0.07
Scotland -0.03
Rutherford -0.02
Wake -0.01
Lincoln -0.01

Winners:
County Difference*
Mecklenburg 1.80
Madison 1.01
Surry 0.86
Haywood 0.80
Duplin 0.62
Currituck 0.57
Brunswick 0.54
Macon 0.51
Polk 0.47
Chatham 0.44
Martin 0.44
Alexander 0.42
McDowell 0.42
Montgomery 0.39
Wilkes 0.37
Alleghany 0.35
Watauga 0.34
Alamance 0.30
Ashe 0.30
Edgecombe 0.28
Orange 0.27
Perquimans 0.27
Northampton 0.25
Rockingham 0.22
Henderson 0.18
Pender 0.17
Bertie 0.15
Dare 0.15
Cherokee 0.14
Clay 0.14
Hyde 0.14
Caswell 0.12
Anson 0.10
Swain 0.10
Hertford 0.09
Mitchell 0.09
Bladen 0.08
Jackson 0.08
Jones 0.08
Warren 0.08
Avery 0.07
Gates 0.07
Tyrrell 0.07
Yadkin 0.06
Sampson 0.05
Beaufort 0.04
Camden 0.04
Davie 0.04
Franklin 0.04
Graham 0.04
Hoke 0.03
Pamlico 0.03
Yancey 0.03
Johnston 0.02
Stokes 0.02
Chowan 0.01
Greene 0.01
Transylvania 0.01
Washington 0.01
Granville 0.00

* The column labeled “Difference” represents the difference between the average proportion of DOT spending by county from 1992-96 and the proportion of spending indicated by the Locke Highway Use Index. A negative sign means that the county received less of a share of total DOT spending from 1992-96 than the Locke index would indicate.

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