JLF Research Archive
North Carolina has the nation’s largest state-owned highway system (80,200 miles), 72 airports, 120+ transit systems, extensive intercity rail freight and passenger service, and several ocean ports. These resources are a key element in the state’s economic vitality and are central to its economic progress. Recent legislative and gubernatorial changes provide an opportunity for charting new directions for transportation policy, planning and investment. This report summarizes an effort by the John Locke Foundation to make recommendations for improving North Carolina’s transportation system.
In recent years, an increasing number of local governments across the nation and across North Carolina have adopted “Smart Growth” policies. However, North Carolina should look to the future and adopt a flexible growth agenda — Flex Growth. Flex Growth is a market-based system of principles for government land use and development policy, especially at the state and local government levels, based upon the idea that people — and not government bureaucrats and planners — know what is best for themselves.
Based on our review of the TTA Response, we continue to have major reservations concerning the feasibility of the Wake County Transit Plan. The TTA Response does not adequately respond to our questions concerning ridership or costs. It does not deal with the inconsistencies in ridership estimated implied in the Plan versus those in the earlier documents and, in fact, introduces new ones. The ridership estimates provided in the TTA Response are several times higher than those implied in the Plan, and the costs per rider are much lower than those implied in the Plan. Further, the Response does not respond to our concerns expressed in the John Locke Foundation’s earlier Review regarding other serious issues. Therefore the TTA Response is deemed inadequate, and our fundamental concerns regarding the costs and benefits of this Plan remain unaddressed.
The draft Wake County Transit Plan, released in November 2011, proposes a doubling of bus service, new commuter rail service between East Garner and Durham, and light rail service between Cary and northeast Raleigh. The expanded service is proposed to be funded by a 1⁄2-cent sales tax, a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees, increased vehicle rental fees, transit bonds, state and federal funds, and rider fares. The estimated cost of the expanded bus and commuter rail plan is $2.8 B, and the full plan (including light rail) $4.6 billion through 2040.
A high-speed rail proposal for North Carolina would create substantial risks for taxpayers, while doing little to nothing to reduce traffic, help the environment, cut energy use, or create jobs. North Carolina should return the federal high-speed rail grant funding, withdraw its pending application, and seek no more funding for passenger rail.
Over the past decade the “demand side management” (DSM) model of public policy has crept into the state of North Carolina’s approach to regulation. Advocates of DSM are clear in making explicit their goals of social engineering and the rearrangement of lifestyles. The language in their guiding documents are replete with references to “behavior modification” and “restraining and restricting” certain activities or lifestyle choices. DSM is inconsistent with a free society, where the role of government is to respond to constituent demands, not manage and control them.
North Carolina highway users are subsidizing other programs at the rate of slightly more than a penny per passenger mile. The total cost of driving in North Carolina is no more than 22 cents per passenger mile. By comparison, the state average cost of public transit is $1.15 per passenger mile, nearly $1 of which is subsidized by non-transit users. Driving is more energy efficient and produces less carbon emissions than almost any transit system in North Carolina.
North Carolina has the largest state-owned road system, but only the 9th largest road budget.
Since 2002, North Carolina’s interstates are smoother, roads are safer, and traffic congestion is improved.
Because of their high costs, tiny benefits, and interference with property rights, North Carolina should not attempt to provide high-speed rail service. Instead, it should use its share of the $8 billion stimulus funds solely for incremental upgrades, such as safer grade crossings and signaling systems, that do not obligate state taxpayers to pay future operations and maintenance costs.
Dr. David Hartgen analyzes the Charlotte LYNX Line, finding, among other things, that final LYNX construction costs are about $521.9 million, about 130 percent above the initial estimate ($227 million), operating costs are about $9.22 million/year, and revenues are averaging about 31 percent of operating costs.
The Minneapolis I-35 bridge disaster and the poor condition of North Carolina’s bridges should be a wake-up call for policymakers to set sensible priorities for transportation policy.
N.C. has 17,782 bridges, of which 5,082 (29 percent) are deemed deficient by the federal government. N.C. ranks 32nd in the nation in percentage of deficient bridges — 10th worst in total number of deficient bridges.
Traffic congestion is defined as the delay in urban travel caused by the presence of other vehicles. This study reviews traffic congestion in each of North Carolina's 17 metropolitan regions. The study determines the magnitude of present and future traffic congestion; the extent to which present plans will relieve or merely slow the growth of congestion; how traffic congestion affects the state's economy; and actions for significantly reducing congestion in the future.
As the Triangle grows, motorists face significant increases in traffic congestion. City and county planners are hired, in part, to suggest plans that will alleviate this congestion. Unfortunately, they are doing the opposite. Based on city staff recommendations, city councils in Raleigh and neighboring cities have fallen victim to the latest planning fad: traffic calming. This seemingly worthwhile goal has significant detrimental consequences, including increased traffic congestion, more deaths due to slower emergency vehicle response times, and unnecessary costs to taxpayers.
The Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) has been seizing private property for a rail system even though the necessary federal funding has never been secured. In late 2005, as it became clear that the rail was likely a dead project, the TTA still condemned land even though it meant forcing people out of their homes and businesses. TTA’s eminent domain abuse, however, may reach a new level. Through a possible public/private partnership, TTA may start using the already seized private property, and acquire additional private property, for economic development reasons. Unfortunately, current N.C. law may allow for these Kelo-type takings.
For over fifteen years, the Triangle Transit Authority has pursued a regional rail for North Carolina’s capital region, to no avail. At the same time traffic congestion in the Triangle has worsened, with other viable alternatives largely being ignored. Recognizing this, it is important to understand the causes of congestion in order to develop workable solutions to the problem.
North Carolina’s largest public transit systems are often credited with reduced traffic congestion and air pollution, efficient land use, reduced dependence on oil, and much-needed mobility for some residents. Are they fulfilling these missions? How are they performing? Who do they benefit? What do they cost?
State leaders claim that capping the gas tax at 27.1 cents per gallon would cost the state up to $135 million a year in road construction. They are wrong. The state will be just $5.3 million behind projections planned for in this year’s budget if it freezes the gas tax. Furthermore, nearly $400 million in gas tax revenues goes toward spending that has nothing to do with road construction. The General Fund, public transportation, railroads, and airlines all receive gas-tax revenues. There is no need to take money from road construction so long as gas-tax revenues are diverted to unrelated programs.
TEA-211, the federal US transportation program passed in 1998, resulted in a substantial improvement in overall road performance but at considerable cost, according to the 14th annual review of state highways by Professor David T. Hartgen, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
North Carolina has the second-largest state-owned road system in the US, almost 79,000 miles. A study in 2000 for the John Locke Foundation using data from 1998 showed that the system was in quite poor shape on key indicators. Clearly, North Carolina is losing the battle on road conditions. The purpose of this analysis is to update the earlier study by gathering and reporting on road conditions for each county and determining how conditions in each county have changed since 1998.
Major road projects are freeway and arterial widenings, new freeways and arterials, new exits, climbing lanes and other major actions that are large enough to likely affect growth. Between 1990 and early 2004, North Carolina constructed 349 major road projects costing about $7.34 billion, about 50 percent of the total expenditures for the TIP and Loop roads and about 1/3 of the total NC State highway program over the same period. This study reviews recent trends in North Carolina’s highway funding practices and the cost-effectiveness of these major capital actions.
US road conditions worsened from 2001 to 2002, for the first time since the mid 1990’s, even though the federal government and the states substantially increased their dollars, according to the latest annual review of state road performance prepared by Professor David T. Hartgen at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
This study carefully reviews the growth of North Carolina’s 1551 Census tracts during the 1990s compared with the locations of major road improvements. Tract data on changes in population, demographics, prior density, and location are merged with detailed data on 312 major road projects completed during the 1990s, and the relationships between road investments and growth are determined for each of the 12 commuting regions.
Co-authors Michael Lowrey and Jonathan C. Jordan examine North Carolina transportation policy and recommend ways of improving it without resorting to more taxation, regulation, and government control. (38 pages-not available online.)
When it comes to state transportation policy, there can be little doubt that North Carolina offers a model not to be emulated. Unfortunately, numerous scandals, problems, and challenges have continued to intermingle transportation policy with politics.
By Jonathan C. Jordan and Michael Lowrey
This comprehensive briefing on 21 issues facing the state, as well as statistics on government expenditures and outcomes, provides ideas and recommendations on taxes, state spending, education, health care, welfare, and more.
Please consult Agenda 2002 for the latest information.