by Randal O’Toole
Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
Many properties outside of incorporated cities in North Carolina are located on roads that are not maintained by any state or local government. Some of these roads may have no clear owner and are known as orphan roads. Buyers of properties along these roads are not always informed that they will be responsible for periodic and expensive road maintenance.
Some of the neighborhoods that use orphan roads have homeowners’ associations or road maintenance agreements that describe who is responsible for maintaining the roads. But many do not, in which case homeowners may not only be surprised by the cost but may be unable to reach agreement with their neighbors on what maintenance should be done and who should pay for it.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has criteria under which it will take over maintenance of these roads. Among other things, the roads must serve a certain housing density, be built to certain minimum standards, and be in good condition. Many orphan roads don’t qualify for one reason or another or may only qualify if homeowners put up the money to restore the roads to state standards.
Even if the NCDOT were to take over these roads, there is an equity problem. Significant auto traffic keeps asphalt pavement compacted, which can reduce maintenance costs. This is not the case for orphan roads, as there is not enough traffic for compaction to occur, resulting in higher than average maintenance costs. The limited traffic means that these roads also contribute very little to the gas tax funds that are NCDOT’s most important sources of revenue. Thus, other auto drivers are effectively forced to subsidize rural property owners whose roads are maintained by NCDOT.
After evaluating the equity and financial feasibility of several alternative
solutions, this report recommends: